Destination: Finland

finnish crime fiction

Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Iceland – they’ve all developed a reputation for fantastic crime books, not to mention the films and TV shows that they’ve exported around the world. Finland – the Nordic nation that’s not quite sure whether it wants to be part of Scandinavia or not – has been a bit quiet on the crime fiction front. Until now.

Three authors are leading the way for Finland, a country normally known for mobile phone games, ice hockey, and frigid winter temperatures. Antti Tuomainen, Leena Lehtolainen and Kati Hiekkapelto are spearheading a Finnish invasion at the moment.

Antti Tuomainen is a soft-spoken poet who turned his hand to crime fiction a few years back with The Healer. Complex, moody and atmospheric, it’s about a poet called Tapani Lehtinen, whose wife has gone missing. She was taken by an environmental campaigner turned killer called The Healer. The setting gives it a real twist – the dystopian near-future Helskini isn’t frozen at all, it’s in the midst of an epidemic caused by rising water levels as the ice caps melt away. The way the world is at the moment, you can see it happening. Scary.

Tuomainen’s second novel, Dark As My Heart, is just as tragic with a young man trying desperately to find out what happened to his mother, who disappeared when he was 14. He manages to get a job as the caretaker for the mega-rich Henrik Saarinen, whom his mother was dating before she went missing. If you enjoyed Blood on Snow and Midnight Sun by Jo Nesbo, this will be right up your dark alley.

The author’s third novel, The Mine, is just out and strikes into new territory again as a journalist investigates a mining company responsible for an ecological disaster. Things get sticky for him when one of the company executives is murdered.

Finnish crime fiction
Finnish crime fiction
Finnish crime fiction

Social issues to the fore

Readers love how Nordic noir authors from Sjowall and Wahloo through to Jussi Adler-Olsen have woven societal issues into the fabric of their plotlines. Kati Hiekkapelto ranks alongside the best on that count. Immigration, racism, people trafficking – her three books are thick with these issues.

The Hummingbird was a very good debut, and its follow-up, The Defenceless, was even better. Hiekkapelto’s main character, Anna Fekete, is of Hungarian ethnicity, born in Yugoslavia, but now living in Finland where she is a rookie police detective. She’s paired with an older man called Esko, who has an old attitude to match. In The Defenceless they’re in the far north of the country investigating the death of an old man hit by a car, and a drugs gang, and this leads on into the story of a refugee struggling to stay in Finland.

The third Anne Fekete story – The Exiled – has just been released, and this time she’s taking a holiday back in the Balkan village where she grew up. When a purse is snatched, and the thief is killed, it turns into a busman’s holiday and she’s dragged into the investigation.

finnish crime fiction
finnish crime fiction
finnish crime fiction

Feisty Finnish females

Like Kati Heikkapelto, Leena Lehtolainen puts strong women characters very much to the fore. Thanks to publisher AmazonCrossing, she’s the most translated Finnish crime author and has two series for you to try. Six of her award-winning Maria Kallio books are available in English now, beginning with My First Murder. It sees hot-tempered Maria recruited to the Helsinki police aged 23. When a rich, young playboy dies at a party, she faces the challenge of solving her first case in the milieu of the super-rich.

Lehtolainen’s more recent Bodyguard trilogy again features a young woman as its protagonist. Hilja Ilveskero is probably cooler, tougher and more composed than Maria Kallio, and she needs to be because in book one, The Bodyguard, she’s accused of murdering one of her clients in Moscow. With Finnish politicians, Russian oligarchs, undercover cops and plenty more in the mix, Lehtolainen weaves a web of treason, passion and international intrigue.

Two more to try

So we’ve had tragic noir, social issues and punchy female protagonists. Where next? Well, Jarkko Sipila’s Helsinki Homicide series is a great place to alight if you enjoy police procedurals. There are six books available in English beginning with Against the Wall. Detective Lieutenant Kari Takamäkis leads his homicide investigators as they look into what looks like a mob hit. One of his men goes undercover to infiltrate the gang. You can expect gritty realism from a writer who covers crime on TV and for the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper.

Pekka Hiltunen is a new writer compared to the others covered here. His debut, Cold Courage, was a sensation in Finland, winning three awards and a nomination for the Scandinavian Glass Key Award. It’s available now in English, along with Black Noise. In these hi-tech thrillers, two women fight crime under the auspices of a graphic design studio. Black Noise sees them hunting down the makers of online snuff videos. The books take place in London, which just might put some Nordic noir fans off, but which gives the author a broader canvas for his brand of action.

finnish crime fiction
finnish crime fiction
finnish crime fiction

Have we missed any rising stars of Finnish crime fiction? Let us know in the comments below!

Garrick Webster is the co-founder of the Crime Fiction Lover website and enjoys the work of James Ellroy, Nordic crime writers and almost any other good noir-ish mysteries. By day he is a journalist, editor and copywriter.

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4 Comments

  1. Christian says

    I’m a big fan of Nordic and Finnish crime fiction, and have to say Antti Tuomainen is really incredible. Have read the first two in translation.

  2. Regina Mangan says

    I have read all these books except Antti Tuomainen and Pekka Hiltunen. I will definitely look for these. Currently madly in love with all things Finland. Two great TV series: “Easy Living” and “The Look of a Killer.”

  3. Anjali Dhar says

    The Seven Symphonies written by British author Simon Boswell who lives in Finland is very readable. The Seven Symphonies relate to Jean Sibelius’s seven symphonies but you don’t have to be a music or Sibelius fan to enjoy it. Available on Amazon.

  4. Leena Korsumäki says

    Thank you for a pretty comprehensive coverage of Finnish crime fiction translated into English. We Finns are coming far behind with English translations compared to other Nordic neighbours. You asked if you had missed any rising stars. There are some more authors and titles translated into English. And hoping much more to follow.

    Matti (Yrjänä) Joensuu (1948-2011), the most acclaimed Finnish crime writer so far. He was a police officer by profession.
    His series of detective seargent Timo Harjunpää, three English translations: Harjunpaa and the Stone Murders (1986), The Priest of Evil (2006), To Steal Her Love (2008).

    Harri Nykänen (writer and journalist).
    Ariel Kafka series (detective inspector in Helsinki), 2 translations: Nights of Awe (2012), Behind God’s Back (2015).
    Raid series (Raid is a philosophical criminal with a conscience), 2 translations: Raid and the Blackest Sheep (2010), Raid and the Kid (2012).

    Hugely popular Seppo Jokinen and his series of DI Sakari Koskinen based in Tampere, not in Helsinki, 1 translation: Wolves and Angels (2012).

    Not Finnish-born, but Finnish-based until his sudden death in 2014, American James Thompson and his Kari Vaara series (written originally in English): Snow Angels, Lucifer’s Tears, Helsinki White.

    More Finnish authors have been translated into German than to English, for example fast-paced thriller writers Ilkka Remes and Taavi Soininvaara. I’d love to see their works translated into English. For instance, Mr Remes’ novel Jäätyvä helvetti (“Frozen Hell”), published 2015, a story how Russia paralysed freezing Finland into its knees with sabotaging power plants and cutting off power lines (no heating, no electricity) in winter. Creepy and thought-provoking.

    And then there is Marko Kilpi, like Mr Joensuu, a police officer by profession. His novels – 4 so far in Finnish – are very good. I really hope his books would find their way into English too. So far 2 German translations.