Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Tulitodistaja by Lars Kepler

Tulitodistaja, or "The Fire Witness", is a straightforward detective novel from a pair of Swedes behind the pen-name Lars Kepler. And wow, it's been such a long time since I read a detective novel (in Finnish we call them "dekkari" with some affection), and an even longer time since I read one in English. Tulitodistaja was a brief encounter that evoked some excitement, some disgust, some disbelief and some boredom. Its not a bad book, but the way it plays off of almost all cliches now associated with the Scandinavian thriller. There is the dive into an icy river, the attack on an abandoned train warehouse and the tragic violence of older men on younger girls.

The writing is dense and professional, with short paragraphs and shorter sentences. But Kepler (or the "Keplers") make the cardinal error of thinking that a back story is the same as character development. All of the players here are one dimensional takes on what should feel like a dynamic study of human emotion in a suddenly changed world. Most characters are given peculiar traits that make them distinct from one another, just witness the orphanage girls shout at each other. But none of them are properly grounded at any point in the narrative. Most of these girls have one defining trait each, be it anger, denial or squeamishness. The same is true of the protagonist Joona, who is mostly defined by his background. Apart from losing his family, he has precious little actual personality.

So perhaps Tulitodistaja is gripping, at least for the first 200 pages, but it lacks any true depth. At least it is honest with itself; The Keplers' creation is not an accident and their prose is imbued with all the necessary gut wrenching moments that are needed to create a national (or even international) bestseller. I won't go as far as recommend something different to read, the typical audience for this type of literature is not very familiar. However, if you are like me, pick up something genuinely haunting, perhaps The Goldfinch.

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