Monday, 11 May 2009

'Seinää Vasten' (Against the Wall) by Jarkko Sipilä

This crime thriller won the 2009 Johtolanka-prize in Finland. It's the 8th in a series of novels following a police department in Helsinki, headed by Chief Inspector Takamäki. The main character is an under cover policeman, Suhonen, who infiltrates a gang of criminals, run from his prison cell by a violent offender, Larsson.

I have not read the previous seven books in the series and found the characters unconvincing and one-dimensional. The author himself admits that he does not wish to burden the reader with the details of the policemen’s private lives. ‘Personal details would make the characters deeper, but if they don’t move the plot forward…’

But the plot didn't keep me awake either. The novel starts with a prologue, a sure sign that the reader needs some extra help. The story is told from the point of view of all the policemen as well as all the villains. This slows down the action and confuses the reader. As a Finn who left her native country some 25 years ago, I also found the many characters’ names unnecessarily long and similar, adding to my confusion. I also spotted an interesting detail: the three truly nasty characters all had Swedish names. Oh to be a Finnish Man!

‘Against the Wall’ has been acclaimed for its authenticity. I have no doubt about this. The dialogue with modern street language is impressive (and I can only assume realistic) and I enjoyed the new phrases. Both the policemen and the criminals use complicated technical equipment and their function is explained well by the writer without affecting the fluency of the story. The rest of the narrative is sometimes clumsy. Whether it’s explaining the routines of the Helsinki serious crimes police department, or the habits of the prisoners, I got the impression that the production of the book was hurried.

In Finland the theme of the book, the limits of what an undercover policeman can do, has been topical after revelations of some police officers’ dealings with drug traffickers. Sipilä claims his plot was charted well before these revelations, but it made me wonder whether ‘Against the Wall’ was rushed into to the printers to mirror the more serious goings-on in the real Finnish police force?


Anonymous said...

I found this very interesting. There aren't many books from Finland, is this author translated into English at all?

Jouko said...

Yes, this book has been translated into English. See