Scandinvian noir -- do we love it? I certainly used to. I got hooked on Henning Mankell, loved the Martin Beck series, and was absolutely bowled over by The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy. Since then, though its not exactly been downhill all the way, I've struggled to recapture the excitement of those reading experiences. It's not for want of trying -- I've had a go at Camilla Lackberg, Jo Nesbo, Lars Kepler, and others whose names have escaped me. They were all OK, but somehow didn't quite hit the spot. But I live in hope. So I was looking forward to Pekka Hiltunen's prize winning debut novel Cold Courage.
Hiltunen is Finnish, but the novel is set in London, an interesting choice and one that is pulled off impressively well. He is also male, though it took me a while to realise this, so his other interesting choice is to have a female protagonist, a young Finnish graphic designer called Lia. Lia has been living happily in London for seven years when one day, on a bus going to work, she passes a crime scene on the street. Though she can't see what's happening, she soon discovers that a body has been found in the boot of a car -- a body that has been so badly damaged as to be unrecognisable. The police get nowhere with this upsetting case, so Lia decides to investigate herself. She soon finds herself exploring a dangerous world of human trafficking, prostitution, and brutality. Not only that, but she gets involved in a separate attempt to disgrace a powerful and unpleasant right-wing political leader.
All this, though a bit graphic and brutal for my taste, was promising. So indeed was the introduction of Mari, Lia's new Finnish friend. Mari has an extraordinary ability to read people and know all about them after just one encounter. She runs an exclusive unit, The Studio, devoted to putting the world to rights at whatever the cost.
All very fascinating. But -- and I'm afraid there is a but -- I did wish someone had edited this novel down a bit. At 434 pages it is really long, and though much of the material is well handled and full of interest, I'd have been happy with just one of Lia's two concurrent investigations. As for Mari, her person-reading ability, which seemed so important at the start, didn't really have much of a part to play as things went on, though obviously it had been useful for recruiting Lia in the first place. I'd have liked to see this being used in a more interesting and fruitful way.
That being said, there's a lot to like -- Lia is an attractive character, and her status as an expat Finn who loves London gives her an interesting perspective on all she sees and experiences. Mari's Studio, too, with its staff of brilliant, eccentric people, all dedicated to the cause of justice in the world, is a great invention, and evidently will reappear, as will Lia, in further novels. All in all, I'm rather sorry not to be able to give this an unqualified thumbs up, as it's an intelligent and thoughtful novel. I shall definitely look out for the next in the series, and hope that even with my quibbles I haven't put anyone off giving this one a try. I don't usually grade my reviews, but if I did, this would get a 7/10.