Book review: Against the Wall by Jarkko Sipila

Against the Wall
(Helsinki Homicide #1 in English translation, #8 in series)
by Jarkko Sipila
Translated by Peter Ylitalo Leppa
Ice Cold Crime, 2009 (originally published in 2008)

When I read this novel I was under the impression that it was the first in the Helsinki Homicide series, but during my research for writing this review I discover that it is in fact the eighth installment. This explains a lot, as the characters, while laconically sketched, seem to have a certain established rapport and personalities that would seem odd if they were being introduced for the first time. I presume it was decided to translate this particular title first as it won the 2009 Finnish crime novel of the year award, but I am sure readers would prefer to be able to consume the books in the order they were written!

This is a novel that does not hang about. The action begins when an undercover cop, Suhonen, accidentally gets caught out while searching a “model’s” house by her returning boyfriend, a career criminal. Suhonen manages to talk himself out of this dilemma by a clever ruse, but soon finds himself with another dangerous assignment, that of tracking down the perpetrators of the murder of a man left in a garage that seems to be a professional hit. Suhonen’s boss is Lt Kari Takamaki, head of the violent crimes unit, who seems kind of iconic and world-weary, but who is only briefly sketched in this novel. For similar reasons, I found it quite hard to distinguish the various cops, though one is a woman so easier to follow – she’s keener on doing things by the book than most of her colleagues.

The plot itself is fairly typical of a good police procedural of the Ed McBain type. There’s a smuggling component, a junkie informant, a prison subplot, villains shifting allegiances, and an unexpected personal connection between the victim and the criminals that is vital to the police in solving the case. It is all perfectly readable and solid, but I found it slightly on the superficial side, I suspect because coming to an ensemble-style book this late on in a series, it is hard to identify with the various characters. The novel is not as good as the Sjowall-Wahloo/McBain style which it sort of emulates (for example in providing glimpses of the characters’ personal lives as well as detailing the investigation) though in a more hard-boiled way, but it is enjoyable enough to make me want to pursue more in the series at some point. Two other titles are translated into US editions and all three are available to UK readers in e-form though not print.

I purchased the Kindle edition of this novel.

Other reviews of Against the Wall are at: International Noir Fiction, Scandinavian crime fiction (Barbara Fister), Mystery*File, Northern Light and Finnish & Scandinavian review.
About the book at the Ice Cold Crime website (PDF).

Author’s website (English language version).