Archive for March 11, 2012

Helsinki, near a bridge over railway tracks there are two dead Arabs, one has been shot and mutilated, the other has fallen or been pushed from the bridge. Ariel Kafka, of the Helsinki Police Violent Crimes Unit, is sent to investigate. Ariel is one of only two Jewish policeman in Finland, and the action takes place during the time between Rosh Hashanah [Jewish New Year] and Yom Kippur [the Day of Atonement] which adds to the dark foreboding atmosphere. When two more dead Arabs are discovered shot in an Iraqi owned garage, the case becomes more complex.  A meeting with Ariel’s brother, Eli and a representative from the Jewish congregation, at which they suggest a terrorist attack may be being planned, and an offensive comment from his colleagues allow him to deal firmly with the old chestnut of double loyalty. 

I’m first and foremost a police officer, second a Finn, and only third a Jew.”

In  passages at the start of the novel  light humour is used to imply  hope for the future. 

Imam Omar was evidently a tolerant man. At least he didn’t give the slightest indication that Stenman and I were unwelcome guests, although it was unlikely that a Jew and a policewoman were everyday sights at the offices of the Islamic society.

But later as more dead bodies are found, shot , blown to bits and strangled the story becomes even more convoluted, even kafkaesque, with drug dealers, SUPO [security police] and Mossad entering the action. The presence of a Jewish policeman should not necessarily lead on to Mossad and Israel. The novel begins to suffer  a form of literary schizophrenia in that it is not sure whether it is a spy thriller or a police procedural, and becomes a little bit confused and confusing. I am still not quite sure who was fooling who, and why certain characters thought they could play off one very dangerous group against another possibly even more violent group. But at least it does try and deal with controversial subjects with some kind of balance. 

“There are all kinds of legends and fairy tales going around about Mossad,” he said. “The majority probably started by Mossad itself.”

Some reviewers  have said there is very little sense of place in Nights of Awe, and I think this is because far from being an outsider Ariel is part of the tiny but active Jewish community. You could easily be in Brooklyn or Montreal as we are introduced to so many Jews, and it is a downside of the book that they are somewhat stereotypical characters.

But despite the falling off in the second half, the cliched back stories, the stereotypes, and the characters the sitting on the political fence, Nights of Awe is  an interesting and thought provoking read. 

I will be on the look out for the sequels when published, which hopefully will contain more unique content about Finland and Ariel’s interactions with his colleagues.