Fiction – paperback; Vintage; 288 pages; 2006. Translated from the German by John Brownjohn.
A serial killer who smothers his victims while they lie sleeping is on the loose in Turku, Finland. He leaves few, if any clues.
Young CID detective Kimmo Joentaa is put in charge of the investigation even though, by rights, he should be on compassionate leave: his wife has just died of a terminal illness.
Joentaa throws himself into his work as a means of distracting himself from his own grief. But at each murder scene, the dead bodies remind him of his dead wife. Over time, he begins to develop an affinity for the murderer, because he seems to take great care in ensuring that his victims do not suffer and that is how Joentaa wanted his wife to be treated in her last, dying moments.
But the killer is far from humane. A seemingly invisible and quiet man, he has a personality disorder kept hidden from his own family and work colleagues. “What would you say if I was completely different from the way you think I am?” he asks his brother one day. “If you were different, I would be very sad,” comes the almost prophetic response…
Ice Moon is one of those genuinely gripping crime thrillers that rips along at a gallop. While the reader knows from the outset the identity of the killer — indeed his spooky voice narrates a good proportion of the book — the tension comes from seeing how the young policeman manages to hone in slowly but surely on his quarry. When the pieces finally fall into place you want to cheer him on and congratulate him on a job well done.
The character of Kimmo Joentaa is actually the strength of this book: he is likable and believable. His grief and his associated bewilderment seems very real.
The other characters, particularly his governor, Ketola and the oddball killer Vesa Lehmus, are similarly well drawn.
It’s difficult to fault the pacing and the atmosphere (I particularly loved the evocative descriptions of the snow-covered Finnish countryside), but I did think there were some gaps in the plot. We know Joentaa is plagued by grief, but a week seems to pass before he even begins to think of organising a funeral and even then he only tells one of his wife’s friends about it and yet a whole bevvy of them seem to turn up. Later, during the police investigation, there’s no mention of the woman having had sexual intercourse with her assailant (in fact, this is one of those rare books in which sex is not mentioned once), which seems to me to be a rather gaping oversight.
There are other “mistakes” dotted along the way, including one or two rather annoying tangents (Joentaa’s side trip to Stockholm, for instance) which just didn’t seem to make any sense. And I’m still scratching my head over why Joentaa insisted that a long-lost lover of one of the victims come stay with him — the man’s visit seemed pointless.
These slight annoyances aside, Ice Moon is an entertaining, fast-paced and chilling read. Its mix of police-procedural and psychological thriller is a refreshing twist on the crime novel, and I will be waiting to see what Jan Costin Wagner, a German based in Finland, comes up with next.