Nights of Awe (Ariel Kafka Mystery) by Harri Nykanen and Kristian London (translator)

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Nights of Awe (Ariel Kafka Mystery) by Harri Nykanen and Kristian London (translator)

Category: Crime
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: In this engaging crime thriller, Inspector Ari Kafka works for the Helsinki Violent Crime Unit, one of the only two Jewish police officers in Finland. This isn't normally a problem until four middle-eastern bodies are found in quick succession, causing Ari to question his loyalties.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 278 Date: February 2012
Publisher: Bitter Lemon Press
ISBN: 978-1904738923

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Inspector Ari Kafka (no relation to the author or, indeed, the local pawn shop owner) is half of the Jewish police officers in Finland which he's sure is due to pay levels rather than religious conviction. Ari graduated 4th in his class at police academy which surprised his mother at the time. If his brother and sister could both graduate top of their university classes, what's wrong with him? His brother is always trying to encourage his attendance at family dinners and the local rabbi has to remind him of the whereabouts of the local synagogue. All this pressure is normally water off a duck's back to Kafka, but this is about to change. When two Arab bodies are found on a railway line, he must choose between loyalties to those he loves and to those he's sworn to serve.

The author, Harri Nykanen, was a crime journalist before turning to fiction and so comes to this police procedural with a back catalogue of experience and knowledge. This isn't his first novel, in fact he has won awards and one of his books (The Raid) has been made into a film. However, most of his output to date has been in Finnish, a loss to the rest of us if Nights of Awe is anything to go by. This is the world's introduction to Ari Kafka, and what an introduction.

Each fictional police detective needs a distinguishing feature to raise him above the rest. Ari's is his Judaism. Nykanen must have some involvement with the Jewish community himself as this book gains an extra dimension from the cultural flavouring. This doesn't just show itself in the book's title (an allusion to the Days of Awe, the time of Jewish self-examination and introspection leading up to Yom Kippur) but also the fact that the nationality of the killer hinges on a single word that's used differently in two middle-eastern languages. Also, unconnected to the culture, the author has endowed Kafka with a wonderfully cynical sense of humour, and (unfortunately for Kafka) little luck with the ladies. Ari tells the story of his closest brush with marriage: his fiancée finished with him as she felt that Judaism was an onerous faith with too many regulations. She finally married a Muslim.

It's not only the Jewish culture that permeates through the story, but that of Finland. Nykanen has cleverly ensured that this isn't just a crime thriller with snow. For instance, a car is described as being the same sort of light green as 'old men's underpants'. One only has to look at elderly male shoppers at the local underwear outlets in this country to confirm this book's foreign origins.

My only slight gripe is that Kafka's police colleagues are slightly under developed compared to his friends and family in the Jewish community. However, this may be intentional, fitting in with the Inspector's personality. On the whole, in his mind, the people he works with are just that, whereas his friends and family are those he cares about and so would be more three dimensional. Is it an unimportant flaw or clever plot device? You decide.

Talking of questions, the final one must be 'Where does Harri Nykanen's hero sit in the detective constellation?' He's as cynical as Morse but with more of a sense of humour and fewer crosswords. Perhaps he's a little like Jack Reacher but shorter, with fewer opportunities for fisticuffs and seduction. Or maybe, just maybe, Ari Kafka is Ari Kafka and, where ever he fits, I'm sure that this first book won't be the last. In fact, since Kristian London did so well translating this, perhaps he'd like to translate the rest of Mr Nykanen's back catalogue. There are definitely worse ways in which he could spend his time.

I would lilke to thank Bitter Lemon Press for providing Bookbag with a copy of this book to review.

If you've enjoyed this, perhaps you'd like to try some more Scandinavian crime thrillers? In that case, perhaps The Last Fix by K O Dahl or The Troubled Man by Henning Mankell.

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Buy Nights of Awe (Ariel Kafka Mystery) by Harri Nykanen and Kristian London (translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Nights of Awe (Ariel Kafka Mystery) by Harri Nykanen and Kristian London (translator) at


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