Raid and the Blackest Sheep
Harri Nykanen, translator Peter Ylitalo Leppa
Ice Cold Crime, 2010, Kindle format
(first published in Finnish, 2000)
Raid is a young, silent and mysterious enforcer who has been paid to accompany Nygren, an ill, ageing criminal recently released after a long jail sentence, on a journey round Finland. As the odd couple meet Nygren’s ex-associates, it seems that the old man is wreaking vengeance on those who have betrayed him by keeping money that they owe him for his pre-incarceration “investments” into their shady businesses. Raid is a man of few (or, in public, no) words, but his increasingly ruthless methods are effective at extracting what is owed to Nygren even in spots so tight that there is no obvious exit. (Raid is a tad too superhuman for my taste, but even so he’s easy to like.)
Gradually, it is apparent that Nygren’s journey is more elegiac than it seemed at first. Some of the people he visits are people he himself has betrayed; others are lost family members. As Raid drives up and down the country, Nygren tells him stories of his past, and how he has come to this point – and eventually, we come to see why Nygren has chosen this particular companion.
Interspersed with this story is that of some Helsinki police detectives, primarily Detective Janssen, an overweight, balding mid-50s cop who to his disgruntlement has been sent to a health farm for a couple of weeks to get fit. Although he’s been married for many years and has never been unfaithful to his wife (an absent but strong influence on him in this novel), he’s tempted to stray by his easygoing colleague Huusko and, in a different way, by Anna, one of the physical therapists. Soon, his colleagues back at the station contact him about Nygren’s activities, as Janssen has had previous dealings with both him and his mysterious companion Raid. Why is Kempas, the head of the undercover unit, an obsessed workaholic, so determined to find Nygren guilty of something? Unwilling to be pulled into what seems like a witch-hunt, Janssen decides to abscond from his ordeal by health and find out for himself what is going on, with the help of his previous relationship with Raid.
I very much enjoyed this book, which is an unusual mix of themes – police-procedural, epic journey, “mysterious hard man”, and ironic humour. By following Nygren and Raid’s journey, and Janssen’s low-key pursuit, the reader can experience quite a few Finnish locations and life – and appreciate the national sport of cracking jokes at the expense of the Swedes. I did not much like the violent coda to the novel – my favourite parts were about Janssen and his colleagues, whom I hope to encounter again.
The Raid series is very popular in Finland and has also been filmed. According to the bibliography in this novel, the first Raid book was published in 1992 and there have been at least seven in the series since – this one is somewhere in the middle. (There may be more, but as the bibliography is in Finnish, I am assuming that only titles containing the word “Raid” are relevant.) It is great that Ice Cold Crime is translating this series (as well as books by other Finnish authors) for the US market and that this novel is available in Kindle format for UK readers.
I purchased my Kindle version of this novel.