I devoured the first two books in James Thompson's Inspector Vaara series. and was eager to pick up the latest - Helsinki White.
Vaara has never been a follow the rules kind of cop - instead he bends them, but only to see that justice was served.
But, in Helsinki White, Vaara has become the leader of a 'black-ops' unit, comprised of himself, Milo and Sweetness, his two odd, but lethal associates. All this is done at the request of his immediate superior. The idea is to fight crime with crime, with an eye to the good. But that isn't the way it's turned out...
"I run a heist gang. I'm a police inspector, shakedown artist, strong-arm specialist and enforcer. Three months ago, I was an honest cop. I'm not sure I care how or why, but I reflect on how I could have undergone such a drastic change in such a short time."
And I'm not sure either. Vaara has undergone surgery for a brain tumour. One of the side effects is that he no longer feels emotion. Perhaps this is a contributing factor? But from the second book to this one, Vaara is a radically different character. And I'm not too sure what I think of him now....
In Snow Angels, Vaara pursues a case that is racially charged - the murder of a Somali woman. In Helsinki White, the issue of racial intolerance, prejudice and hate is a tangible, ugly truth. The racist rhetoric made me feel sick. Thompson has borrowed from headlines in Finland to create a multi layered plot involving extreme xenophobia, political corruption at the highest levels and more. Vaara pursues justice, but it is obtained by vicious and selective means.
The tone of Helsinki White is very dark and noir. The violence and situations are extreme. The characters are of course, Thompson's to manipulate, but I have to be honest, I didn't like where he took them. Vaara's American wife Kate has agreed to Vaara heading the black ops group. But, she is aware of the escalating violence, is present for some of it, all while toting along her three month old baby.
Vaara's tumour has left him without emotion and operating on a base level....
"I don't seem to care about what I do, either. My existence is binary. Want/don't want. Like/don't like. Will/won't. I have no shades of gray."
...and the writing seems to echo that - the prose are short and terse. Except for the long descriptions of the guns and equipment obtained by Milo, that I found myself skimming.
I applaud Thompson's tackling of a very real issue, but Vaara's solutions makes him no better than those he is pursuing. Will I read the next in the series? Yes, I want to where Thompson takes Vaara, but it won't be at the top of the pile.
Read an excerpt of Helsinki White. You can find Thompson on Facebook and on Twitter.