I’m today’s stop on the Random Tours blogtour for Trouble, the third novel by Katja Ivar featuring Finnish detective Hella Mauzer. Set during the early 1950s, in the first novel, Evil Things, Hella was a sergeant in the Helsinki police; in the second, Deep as Death, she’s left the police to become a private investigator and ends up in hospital. Trouble picks up as she resumes her PI career after her injuries. I’ve not read the first two, but although it would be nice to find out more about her former boss, now Chief of Police, Jokela, who apparently sent the business her way which got her injured in the second book. That said, the two crimes that form the basis of this book don’t rely on past knowledge.
Ivar herself is an enigma – I couldn’t find out whether she is actually Finnish. Her bio says she grew up in Moscow and then Dallas, graduated from the Sorbonne in Paris and now lives in Washington DC with her family. She writes in English. Let’s turn to the novel…
The novel begins with a prologue set in 1942 in which Colonel Mauzer, his wife and elder daughter are setting off to view a forest cabin at which Mauzer and his old colleague and friend Kyander hope to spend their retirement fishing. His younger daughter, Hella wasn’t with them, being ill. Waving them off will be the last time she’ll see them, as all three perish in a car crash with a lorry.
We move on to 1953, and the recovering Hella is moving back into the empty family home after 11 years, for her PI work is scarce and she can’t afford to rent any more. The house is full of memories, having been left all that time untouched, but she doesn’t get much chance to feel maudlin though for her friendly and handsome new neighbour Erkki pops round to introduce himself. She gets a job from her old boss too, things are looking up. Jokela wants her to vet a potential replacement for his old job as head of the homicide squad.
“So, the candidate we have in mind,”Jokela said, giving the matchbook a vigorous squeeze, “is a most distinguished man, As a matter of fact he currently works for the SUPO.”
Of course, Hella thought. A secret service man. Probably knows nothing about policing or detective work, but who did that ever stop when deciding on a promotion.
Hella is confused as to why he’d need further discrete vetting. Surely, Jokela has his SUPO records. But as Jokela carries on to explain, despite his good reports, his family history presents a risk.
“They say it runs in families. And they’re probably right. Me Heikkinen’s father committed suicide – it’s in his son’s personnel file – and apparently his cousin is off his rocker, and then his child and wife died and he went off on a bit of a tangent himself.”
“I see,” Hella said.
“Of course you do.” Jokela visibly perked up. “So I’d like you to make sure the man doesn’t have… issues, I suppose that’s what you’d call it. You know, that he doesn’t bark with the dogs, or secretly believe he’s the Messiah or something. What with your female intuition, you have an eye for such things.”
So that’s the first investigation for Hella sorted, however, she also wants to investigate her family’s deaths. She is sure they were murdered, and she asks Jokela if she can see the file – he agrees – but when she gets to the archives, the file is empty. Curiouser and curiouser, as Alice said; it all adds to her belief that their deaths weren’t accidental. When she gets home, she has a parcel, which Erkki had accepted for her containing a piece of material with a number in it. What is that all about?
We continue on with the two-pronged narrative, she goes off to start talking to friends and family of Mr Heikkenen armed with a cover story. At the same time, she continues to pore over what facts she knows about her family’s deaths – it’s not good she will have to talk to Kyander, she needs to find out more about her father’s job in the military during the ‘Continuation War’ when Nazi Germany and Finland were allied against the Soviets in WWII.
Alongside this is a developing friendship with Erkki, and the attentions of Steve, her former boyfriend who can’t believe he was dumped – she still sort of likes him, but doesn’t have room for him in her life at the moment.
Given that this is set in 1953, Hella is an extremely independent young woman. Maybe Finland had attitudes towards working women that were ahead of the rest of us, but I was surprised that a young woman could become a sergeant in the murder squad at such a young age – given that in 1970s Britain, two decades later, policewomen were rarely taken seriously and subjected to the lad culture of the squad room when they ventured in. That said, she is an extremely likeable person, and Jokela evidently has a paternal attitude towards her.
As you might expect, her investigations will put her in physical danger again – but which one? Or is it both? Trouble is a sprightly thriller, coming in at 220 pages, with a heroine to match. I enjoyed this book and would love to read the other two in the series.
This novel also fits in with my #NordicFINDS23 reading month, and the gun on the cover crosses the flintlock pistol off Bookforager’s Picture Prompt Book Bingo 2023.
Source: Review Copy – thank you. Bitter Lemon Press paperback original, 220 pages. BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link.