Press & Reviews
  • Trouble Reviews
  • Trouble
Trouble Reviews

Wall Street Journal: Mysteries: ‘Trouble’ by Katja Ivar An ex-cop in 1950s Helsinki digs into the background of a former spy—and finds what may be a door into her own family’s tragic history. Private investigator Hella Mauzer returns in Katja Ivar’s historical mystery “Trouble,” set in Finland in 1953. Hella, 29, used to be a Helsinki cop, and her ex-boss on the force still relies on her for occasional assignments. His latest: vet the background of a high-ranking spy who’s applied to be the head of the city’s homicide squad.

Spies are nothing new to Hella. Her father was known in his time as “the finest spy mind in all of Europe.” He was killed, along with Hella’s mother, sister and nephew, in a hit-and-run in 1942. She remains unreconciled to the deaths. “If it had been an accident,” she wonders, “why would the file at the police archives be empty?” Had her father, irate over certain aspects of Finnish cooperation with Germany during World War II, threatened someone powerful enough to get himself killed? Hella’s new assignment strengthens her resolve to find out the truth. Another top spy seems just the person to help. This man, though, has shadowy tragedies in his own past. His wife died in a fire in which he himself was badly burned. Hella’s old boss has received anonymous letters accusing the job applicant of murder. She finds anonymous messages at her own doorstep. At least, she thinks they’re anonymous—they’re in Russian, which she doesn’t read. “What was this,” she asks rhetorically, “some sort of espionage plot?” She starts to fear that she’s drawn the attention of the same forces who may have targeted her family.

“Trouble,” Ms. Ivar’s third Hella Mauzer novel, takes place in Finland’s annual season of near-constant daylight. “How was anyone supposed to sleep if it was never dark?” Hella asks. “How was anyone supposed to think?” She already knows that detective work means “exploring avenues that led nowhere, talking to people who didn’t know anything.” But poking into her family’s history proves doubly frustrating, since everyone else insists there’s nothing to find. “What could one do if there was no proof, no formal police investigation, and no confession? What could she do if no one seemed to care?” Her father’s best friend, a former colleague, tells her to “lay the dead to rest.” But Hella remembers her father once showing her a famous optical illusion that reveals both a simple vase and two human silhouettes. “If one day you’re stuck on a difficult case,” he’d said, “just think of Rubin’s vase.” Hella applies that dual-vision to her current predicament: “What she was looking at was a perfect crime.” Now she knows what to do: find out why the victims died—and avenge them.”---Wall Street Journal 


The Times Best New Thrillers for February 2023: “In her third outing, Hella Mauzer has left Helsinki’s homicide squad and set up as a private investigator. Finland in the 1950s looks at an unmarried woman askance, but it’s Hella’s skill at seeing things in another light that makes her ideal to vet the city’s prospective new police chief. Johannes Heikkinen works for the country’s secret service and appears to have led a perfect life. The only blot has been a cluster of fatal accidents among those close to him, such as that of his wife in a fire. Hella also wonders what he knows about the hit and run that a decade before wiped out her family, including her father, regarded as the best spy of his generation. Clues to that from the war years are starting to surface. More gatherer than hunter, Hella is an increasingly winning character, aware she is not perfect, yet determined, without compromising, to do her best. This series may not stir the pulse overmuch, but even so it goes about its way in admirable fashion.”---The Times


“Finland, 1953, eight years after the war, when memories and scars of Nazi and Soviet occupation are still sore. To her surprise, ex-cop turned Private Investigator Hella Mauzer is called in by her old boss, with whom she was never the best of friends, to help him out with a touchy little matter of running some undercover checks on a secret service high-up running for promotion to exalted heights. A routine job, according to her old boss, which is enough to tell her that it won’t be, at a time when she is anyway obsessed in clarifying what happened a decade before to her parents who died in what was almost certainly a contract killing. No reader will be surprised when the two cases appear to be linked. But Ivar has created an interesting heroine, back for her third incarnation and again poking into hornets’ nests wherever she finds them. She also has an ex-boyfriend who thinks they should get together again. And an attractive young man nearby who has taken a more than casual interest in her. Even the man from the secret service behaves nicely to her. It’s all too good to be true. So what is the truth? Will she find out? You bet she will.”CrimeTime  

STARRED REVIEW “Set in 1953, Ivar’s stellar third mystery featuring Hella Mauzer (after 2020’s Deep as Death) finds Hella working as a PI after losing her job as the first-ever woman inspector in the Helsinki Homicide Unit. She’s surprised to hear from her former boss, Police Chief Jokela, who asks her to meet him at headquarters after hours when few people would be around. The reason for that timing becomes clear once Jokela specifies the sensitive help that he’s seeking—a background check on Johannes Heikkinen, a member of SUPO, the Finnish secret service, a candidate to become the head of homicide. Hella agrees on the condition that she’s given unfettered access to the files on the 1942 deaths of her parents, sister, and nephew, who were killed by an unidentified hit-and-run truck driver. From the prologue, readers know that Colonel Mauzer and his family were deliberately targeted and he recognized the driver just before being fatally struck. Hella pursues that cold case as well as disturbing discoveries from her look into Heikkinen’s history. Ivar balances the complex plotlines perfectly. Fans of multifaceted female leads will be riveted.”—Publishers Weekly 

“Hella Mauzer, 29, is both very much of Finland—she’s a dour private investigator who seems made from her country’s six-months of darkness —but completely not what her fellow 1950s Finns want her to be. Put flowers under your pillow on midsummer night and you’ll dream of your future fiancé, they hint, with marriage and motherhood then all but guaranteed. Hella wants none of it. She keeps both her ex-boyfriend, who can’t grasp that things are over, and her new, interested neighbor at arm’s length while immersed in two investigations. One is a favor to her father’s former secret-police colleague: a background check on the prospective head of Helsinki’s homicide squad. The other is more personal. Hella is desperate to find out who killed her parents,  sister, and nephew, all of whom died when hit by a truck when Hella was a teen. Getting the courage to read the police file on her family’s deaths is a big step, and one that immediately leads her to suspect that there was much more to the tragedy than an accident. The background check is far from straightforward either, adding up to a tale that brings to mind Game of Thrones, with all that story’s evil and power-hungry machinations. If Scandinavian mysteries are your thing, try this, as well as Ann-Helén Laestadius’s Stolen, and Joachim B. Schmidt’s Kalmann for great stories that take place outside the more common urban settings in Sweden and Denmark.”—First Clue


Daylight is No Shield:  Katja Ivar Interview in PW--December 2022

In Trouble, Ivar’s third outing for Hella Mauzer, set in the early 1950s, the Finnish PI seeks the truth about some deaths in her family’s past. 

What about Cold War Finland intrigued you? The era is fascinating, because that’s when our contemporary world took shape, really. And Finland was such an interesting place, because it had a very long border with the Soviet Union that’s very hard to monitor. I wanted the tension from that geopolitical context, which plays a big role. 

What else about Finland distinguishes it from other Northern European countries? When I started researching, I realized that Finland had one of the first female policemen in the region, Hilker Hotma, but she didn’t stay in the force because there was so much misogyny. The more I read about that, the more I realized that women at the time I write about were still confined to roles that men wouldn’t do, even in such a very progressive country as Finland, which was the first country in Europe to give women the right to vote and was the first country in Europe to let women run for office. It gave me the idea to make Hella a pioneer in the Finnish police, but it’s coincidental that she also didn’t stay in the police for long. If I kept her a member of the homicide squad in Helsinki, the books would be more about relations with her colleagues, and I didn’t want that to be their focus.

Did you imagine a series when you started writing the first novel?  Well, I didn’t really start it as a series. I didn’t even see myself as a writer. What led to it was a personal tragedy. Some years ago, I lost a baby girl, who was stillborn. That was a huge heartbreak. Basically, I started writing just as a way of getting out of my head in some way. I didn’t think I’d send it to an agent or publisher, but then when I started writing, it just wrote itself. The character grew on me, and I thought there was so much else to say on Hella and her past troubles. 

Why isn’t this one set in the winter like the first two books? In summer, the nights in Helsinki are very light. Hella’s sleepless and exhausted—it’s not an easy time for her. And daylight is no shield. I wanted this contrast between a sunlit city where everything seems lovely, but some very bad things are going on. Hella’s life changed when she was a young girl when she least expected it, when her family went to buy a summer cabin, and died, not when she’d expect anything bad happening. --Lenny Picker


Trouble by Katja Ivar, third in the series about Finnish detective Hella Mauzer, is set in 1953. No longer on the police force, Hella is now a reluctant private eye. A former boss asks her to carry out a background check on a secret service agent about to be appointed to a senior police job. It’s a dull, seemingly pointless task, but she’s willing to do it in exchange for access to cop files on her own father’s mysterious death in 1942. He too was a spy during the period when Finland was an ally of Nazi Germany. He died in an accident, according to the official story, but in the world both he and her current target lived in, what value was there in the official version of any story? Ivar’s writing has both depth and concision, and her locale is mint-fresh.”---Morning Star


“Although the author was born in Russia, she now lives in the USA and writes in English and this is the third volume in her series featuring 1950s Finnish sleuth Hella Mauzer. The character was established in EVIL THINGS and DEEP AS DEATH and is definitely growing in stature, and the Cold War background and territory she moves through is endlessly fascinating. Due to previous events, Hella is now adrift from the police force and has become a reluctant private investigator when she is asked by her former boss at the Helsinki murder squad to pursue routine check ups on certain shady members of the security services. Hella agrees on the condition she is provided access to hitherto buried files with more details about the suspicious hit an run death of her own father and the rest of her close family, a military colonel at a time when Finland had briefly flirted with the Nazis. She inevitably opens up a hornet’s nest of treachery, betrayal and criminal activities with dubious political overtones while the subject of her principal investigation, a much-admired officer, is not as he first appears a model of integrity, with question marks over the death of both his wife and child some years before. With parallel cases full of hidden secrets, Hella is soon in deep waters but is tenacious and a hardy seeker of the truth, even when it brings danger to her door. A gritty lead character in the making.”--CrimeTime II


“Following Evil Things and Deep as Death, Trouble is the third novel in Katja Ivar’s series about the Finnish detective Hella Mauzer. Set in Helsinki in 1953, it’s a procedural with hints of a Nordic noir atmosphere to it, a touch of espionage as the Cold War is in progress, but it’s very much a book about a progressive young woman finding her place in the world, fending off prejudice and uncovering injustices large and small.

Events in the previous book, Deep as Death have been a setback for Hella Mauzer. She was seriously injured and she has left her role as a police detective. However, her police chief, Jokela, has been in touch. He has some freelance work for Hella, and wants her to run some background checks on a man called Johannes Heikkinen. A key figure in Finland’s intelligence service, SUPO, Heikkinen has applied for a role as a chief investigator with the police. Jokela thinks it might be a rubber stamp exercise but wants to make sure due diligence is followed.

Hella’s not particularly motivated but she agrees to it, for a fee but mainly hoping Jokela will give her access to the police files on her family. Her mother, father, sister and nephew were killed in a hit and run during World War II. It is from her father that Hella gets her inquisitive nature. Like Heikkinen he served in Finland’s intelligence service, but was about to retire when he was killed.

Heikkinen’s story is a tragic one. His wife died in a fire at their home not long after the death of their infant son. As she looks into it, Hella finds out that Heikkinen’s wife suffered from depression and that his cousin, a poet called Viekko Aalto, was a friend of his wife. Today, Aalto is considered a madman and to Hella it seems something’s not right about the whole thing. As she starts digging, cryptic messages are left at her home – the empty, maudlin house she has inherited from her parents. She starts to think she’s being followed.

The story Katja Ivar tells is guided more by Hella’s thoughts and feelings, than the case, per se. She works diligently at it but it’s not her main focus. Memories of her family swirl in her mind and in her dreams. She has recently split with her boyfriend, Steve, an American who was married but is leaving his wife to be with Hella. And she’s constantly disappointed by men who keep saying that her place is in the home and question the fact that she hasn’t married or had children. Former colleagues, people she interviews for the case, suspects as they emerge – they all underestimate her.

What she really wants to find out is what happened to her family, and why. This tragedy is where the book heads and she starts to make headway, putting together bits of information she gets from Jokela, Heikkinen, her father’s old colleague Kyander and interesting new sources that you’ll find out about when you read the book. It all goes back to arrangements the Finnish authorities had with the Nazis during World War II.

In the middle of the book, there are times when it’s not clear where the story is heading or what the priorities are, and the narrative loses its impetus a little. The focus is often on Hella and how she experiences the world. That’s not entirely a bad thing, though. She’s careful and perceptive during conversations, and the dialogue is precisely written. It’s one way the author tunes you in to the mystery. Although she’s troubled, she’s also a quirky character who looks at life differently to her contemporaries and she’s good company through the ups and downs of a sleep deprived summer in Helsinki. She won’t conform, but she’s growing more aware of her need to get by in the world.

Just when you think things are fizzling out as one of the two mysteries she’s tackling is solved, the other springs to life at the end of the book and Hella comes up with a plan that she hopes will deliver justice for all. There are some big surprises at the end of the novel – and if you’ve fallen under Hella Mauzer’s spell, they will astound you. At just over 200 pages, Trouble is a quick read, but it has plenty of depth nonetheless and, even though there are two prior books in the series, the author does a great job of bringing you up to date without drowning the current storylines in detail.”---CrimeFictionLover


“When Hella Mauzer is asked by her former boss in the police to make discreet enquiries into a senior member of the Finnish secret service, the reader of this excellent tale knows this is a task that isn’t going to end well. Mauzer discovers a link between Johannes Heikkinen, the subject of her enquiry, and the death of her father in a suspicious hit-and-run road collision in 1942. Heikkenen, it seems, is not the virtuous member of society he likes to portray and it doesn’t take too long before he and Mauzer are set on a collision course. Trouble begins with an engaging prologue that acts as an excellent hook to encourage the reader to continue. When I first did so, I confess I struggled a little with the narrative. Then, it occurred to me this is a novel set in Finland and narrated from the perspective of a lead character who is Finnish. From that moment, as I allowed my mind to hear the voice of a female, Finnish voice telling the story, it became much more enjoyable. The language, the personal voice and the narrative became clearer and the reading experience, all the more enjoyable. A great read.”---LoveReading


“The story opens as a father and some of his family are mown down by a logging lorry in 1942. Hella lost her whole family in that accident and subsequently trained with the police murder squad but had to leave and now works as a PI. It is 1953 and of course this is style a period in time when women were very much the underdogs, so working in this field was very unusual for a woman. She is invited by the police, by her erstwhile boss in fact, to carry out a background check on a member of the Finnish Secret Service, SUPO, and in return she asks to delve into the files surrounding her family’s death… murder, even. As she starts to make headway, various characters are introduced who might just warrant a closer look as she goes deeper into the past. This novel is a very solid mystery, that is well paced, it feels very reliable as the narrative progresses and it is certainly very readable; it won’t perhaps set the world on fire but it is satisfying in its own way. It is worth being  aware of words that would/would not have been in use in the 1940/50s – thus “stroller” in 1942 should in fact be pushchair to offer a true sense of the era. The sense of place is quite strong, the sun is in the sky until the wee small hours and the relentless light adds to the ambience of the story. Helsinki feels very tangible as Hella makes her way around the city, to the station, to Cholera Basin (which is the name for the western harbour basin in front of Market Square), heading for meet ups or sleuthing in her methodic way. It is no.3 in Hella Mauzer series and can be read as a standalone.’---TripFiction

  • Author avatar
    Francois Von Hurter
  • Trouble