Black Noise by Pekka Hiltunen

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Black Noise by Pekka Hiltunen

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: Violent videos on the internet quickly become evidence of real-life murders, and the Studio are drawn into an investigation that touches them more closely than they'd ever have wanted. The second in the new Scandinavian series from Finnish author Pekka Hiltunen rattles along at a satisfying pace - though you might find your credibility just a bit stretched. If you can live with that, it's an entertaining read.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 348 Date: October 2014
Publisher: Hesperus Nova
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781843915225

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It was just one of them quirky internet things to begin with. Empty videos appearing on the internet. Dark expanses of time: no images, no sound.

They'd been uploaded from hacked accounts: teenagers who didn't know anything about it or about each other. There were ten of them altogether. If it had stopped there it would have been one of those 9-days-wonders of the web. An oddity talked about for years, freaking a few people out, but sinking, ultimately without much trace.

But it didn't stop there. The next series was anything but black noise. It was brutal violence and at all the hallmarks of being very very real. Just in case anyone was in any doubt about the authenticity, the bodies started to show up: dumped in very public places, fairly close to where they'd been last seen alive.

The police are obviously doing everything they can. They are obviously not telling the public exactly what that is. Personally, I do feel our society might work better once we get back to understanding that it is (sometimes!) right for the investigating - and indeed some other - authorities not to be disclosing their entire hand to the world at large.

I'm not advocating a return to the dark days of policing by stealth where a conviction (any conviction by any means) was the justifiable end – it has to be the right conviction, and it has to be through controlled and accountable policing – but we should be intelligent to know, that that cannot happen if they have to share with us, and the bad guys, every single clue before its even fully understood.

That said, Hiltunen suggests that there might also be other reasons why the cops keep their secrets. Something to do with priorities and budgets and promotion prospects. Nothing new there then.

But back to the story… while all of these horrible videos are circulating, a number of mis-matched individuals who are collectively known as 'The Studio' are doing their own bit of investigation.

The Studio is the creation of Finnish ex-pat Mari. She's a strong-minded woman, with apparently unlimited wealth and a sharp brain, particularly honed to both accumulate knowledge at a phenomenal rate and to read people to a degree that would make some wonder if she can read souls, let alone minds. She can't. There's nothing super-natural about her. She just has a history that led to her developing along these lines. Very few people know what that history is.

Least of all Lia, another Finn and latest recruit to the Studio. Black Noise is billed as the second in the Studio series, so it's reasonable to assume that Lia's recruitment to the club is the subject of the first novel. Hiltunen treads the fine line between recounting everything that happened in the previous story and giving us just enough to understand why and how Lia has some of the access that she does.

The other members of the Studio are exactly what you'd want from a modern-day 'A-Team'. There's Berg, the props-man, trained in theatrical set design, super-carpenter, and as steady as a rock. Rico is the technical whizz, computer genius, hacker-extraordinaire and a dab hand at the video-camera-recording and tracking end of things. And naturally there needs to be an ex-policeman with the right contacts: that will be Paddy.

There's also Maggie. I'm not entirely sure what her super-power is. She's really good with people and an ex-actress. Maybe it's that simple. Maybe she's the face man. Or maybe she's being saved for a future episode.

The point of the Studio is that they can set about righting some of society's injustices. When a radio DJ is unjustly accused of assaulting a 14-year-old and his life (not just his reputation) is left in tatters, then Mari is the person to step into the breach: just because she can, and because someone should.

The kicking videos, and the bodies turning up on the streets, are reason enough to get involved. There also appears to be a gay connection – which brings it a bit close to home for one of the crew.

Then it hits even closer to home… and they have no choice. This one they have to see to the bitter end, no matter where that takes them across the planet and into their own pasts. It is dangerous, but not one them would even think of backing down.

Definitely not the most plausible crime story you'll read this year, and probably not the most suspenseful either, but it's tightly constructed and rattles along at a satisfying rate. There's a couple of unexpected jolts and some hints at horrors that could have been less-hinted at and more explicit without being overdone, but on the whole it's good solid entertainment of its kind, with a few snippets of social commentary snook under the radar.

Hiltunen takes Scandi-noir out of its home territory, but if you want head back to the roots then obviously anything by Henning Mankell or Stieg Larrsen should do it. Or for more tales of what might drive Finnish women try At the Edge of Light by Maria Peura. We've also enjoyed The Brothers by Asko Sahlberg.

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