Search results for "joensuu"

Matti Yrjänä Joensuu: Harjunpää ja rautahuone [Harjunpää and the iron room]

19 November 2010 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Harjunpää ja rautahuone
[Harjunpää and the iron room]
Helsinki: Otava, 2010. 302 p.
ISBN 978-951-1-24742-5
€ 26, hardback

This book’s shocking opening scene, a cot death, is not followed by anything that lightens the tone. Finland’s best-selling crime writer, Matti Yrjänä Joensuu (born 1948) – whose work has been translated into nearly 20 languages – focuses here on a criminal investigation conducted by Inspector Timo Harjunpää into the murderer of several wealthy women. The victims are linked via their purchases of sex; the detective’s attention soon falls on Orvo, a masseur who also turns tricks as a gigolo. Nearly every scene is shot through with themes of lovelessness, exploitation and the connection between malice and sex. Harjunpää is an empathetic, slightly rumpled cop who has an ambitious yet somewhat downbeat attitude to his job. Joensuu’s Harjunpää ja pahan pappi (Priest of Evil) was published in English in 2006. Joensuu himself is a retired police officer; his particular strength as an author is his extraordinarily precise, realistic portrayal of police work. But it’s not just about who did what; why they did it is equally important. One reason for Joensuu’s popularity is his extremely well-developed understanding of human nature. He observes and analyses, but never judges.

A policeman’s crimes

31 December 1985 | Archives online, Authors

Matti Yrjänä Joensuu. Photo: Jouni Harala

Matti Yrjänä Joensuu. Photo: Jouni Harala 2010

The Finnish section of the major Nordic Crime Novel Competition in 1976 was won by a newcomer, Matti Yrjänä Joensuu, with his Väkivallan virkamies (‘Civil servant in violence’). A realistic crime and police novel in the style of the Swedish writers Sjöwall and Wahlöö, the book represented something completely new in Finland. In the previous competition, held in 1939 as Europe hovered on the brink of war, the winner of the Finnish section was Mika Waltari’s Kuka murhasi Rouva Skrofin (‘Who killed Mrs Skrof?’); the novel is now regarded as one of the classics of Nordic detective fiction. But Waltari was, of course, a literary polymath; his Sinuhe, egyptiläinen (1945; English translation The Egyptian) is among the internationally best-known Finnish novels.

The detective novel and thriller tradition in Finland is both short and slight, and apart from Waltari’s book and its two sequels, many of its representatives – even those that have been most widely acclaimed and read at the time – are of little worth by any objective standards. Joensuu, therefore, has no living tradition to follow, and in interviews he has said that at the start of his career he was not familiar with the two Swedish writers to whom his work is most readily likened, Sjöwall and Wahlöö. This is not difficult to believe; in terms of both politics and social criticism Joensuu’s first novel, in particular, is much tamer than the Swedish writers’ – what all three writers have in common is the gravity with which they approach crime and the individuals who engage in it, and their realistic description of the work of the police. More…

Keeping the day job

30 September 2003 | Authors, Interviews

Matti Yrjänä Joensuu

Photo: Irmeli Jung

Finland’s most famous cop, Chief Superintendent Timo Harjunpää, is the fictional creation of another policeman, Matti Yrjänä Joensuu. The long-awaited eleventh novel in the Harjunpää series, Harjunpää ja pahan pappi (‘Harjunpää and the priest of evil’) appeared this autumn after a gap of a decade. Joensuu talks to Jarmo Papinniemi about crime, the creative process and the powers of darkness

Matti Yrjänä Joensuu (born 1948) is one of the best-known Finnish crime writers and is certainly one of the most respected. He writes novels about ordinary policemen and ordinary crimes; bleak tales of murder which do not pander to the reader with complicated plots, non-stop action or glamorous settings. Like the Swedish writers Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö or Henning Mankell, Joensuu’s narratives focus on social reality and expose the darker sides of society and the day-to-day misery and suffering which gives rise to crime. More…

Food for thought

31 March 2006 | Archives online, Articles, Authors, Non-fiction

Are thrillers the junk food of literature – or is there any haute cuisine in the genre of crime? And who cares anyway, if the books make you tum the page? Pia Ingström takes a look at some Finnish whodunits

Finnish crime fiction has kept itself largely free of the illusions of grandeur which have made the same genre in neighbouring Sweden begin to seem ever more pretentious and ridiculous. In the recent past, Sweden has exported blockbusters by Henning Mankell, Liza Marklund and Åke Edwardson to the international crime Fiction market, followed by a great flood of successors totally lacking in originality but presented as important literary contributions to some vaguely defined ‘contemporary debate’.

In Finland, detective stories and thrillers are sensibly treated simply as detective stories and thrillers crafted according to a recognisable formula, avoiding the sort of monstrosities characteristic of Sweden which mix scenes of brutal violence clearly intended as entertainment with claims to social relevance. Finnish crime novels tend to be less pretentious, and can sometimes happily surprise the reader by their high quality.

Take for example the flashy new doorstopper by Ilkka Remes, or a rather clumsily executed but at times bizarrely original private-eye story by Anja Angel, or a bittersweet tale of Russian-Karelian blood-and-crime-brotherhood by Matti Rönkä, or a feminist offering from Leena Lehtolainen. None of these makes any great claim to the status of art – they are honestly, at times brilliantly, crafted products of the genre that here and there reveal a glimpse of one or another of the true signs of real literature – originality, pain, and individuality – even if this is not necessarily presented with consummate technical skill.

Ilkka Remes’ thirteenth book Nimessä ja veressä (‘In the name and the blood’, WSOY, 2005) is strictly speaking the product of neither art nor craft so much as of a kind of industrial design. The writer’s name is a pseudonym and he makes very few public appearances, which perfectly matches the polished anonymity of his books. His themes are international terrorism, chemical warfare and political conspiracy. His plots teem with extra-powerful secret agents from a variety of security services, and he seasons the mix with a dose of competently researched local colour. In his latest offering, Nimessä ja veressä, the story moves be­tween fundamentalist Christians in the Bible belt of northern Finland, entrepreneurs in the tourist business, and the deserts of Iraq. Its action scenes are more convincing than those in some of his earlier novels in which a surfeit of heavy artillery, explosives and scrap metal sometimes confused the picture and made it difficult to understand which of the characters survived (not that knowing this was necessarily of vital importance). Reviewers have not praised Remes for creating interesting characters. But since his latest offering has sold 119,000 copies – an astonishing number and the highest figure among last year’s bestselling books in Finland – who cares if his books don’t exactly lead the field in psychological insight?

The success of the Da Vinci Code has proved that God, Jesus and all that is hot stuff these days, and Remes surfs the trend skilfully. His main character, a Bible scholar from the dark winters of the far north, is on the trail of something unique that has cast new light on the Dead Sea Scrolls, St Thomas’s Gospel and some discoveries in Qumran and attracted the attention not only of her old schoolmates and sisters-in-belief in the northern village of Pudasjoki but of the Israeli intelligence service Mossad, too. The discoveries are then lost.

Now that he has a religious subject safely under his belt, Remes is already no doubt well advanced with his research into the avian flu pandemic that is now on its way to us.

The novels of Leena Lehtolainen are as easy to classify as the thrillers of Remes: socially-and gender-sensitive detective stories with wholesome human interest. Her plot construction is a little uneven – sometimes her motives and characters are believable, at others they seem forced. There is not much to say about her literary style – but for whatever reason, like many other people (her most recent book sold 50,000 copies in 2005). I have read all her crime novels with profit. In recent years she has alternated between a series built round the police officer Maria Kallio, and other novels in which violent crime within intimate family relationships is seen from a grassroots perspective. Possibly her family novels – Tappava Säde (‘Lethal Ray’), Kun luulit unohtaneesi (‘When you thought you’d forgotten’) and Jonakin onnellisena päivänä (‘One happy day’; Tammi) are her best, with their interesting prickly characters and greater feeling for sorrow and suffering.

However, Inspector Maria Kallio brings to the novels in which she appears a pleasant stability and fullness. Her children have now been born and her career is firmly established, but marriage complications remain and a little whiff of predictability is beginning to creep into the domestic scenes, something the reader can often identify with. Lehtolainen is quick to react to topical subjects. In her thirteenth novel Rivo Satakieli (‘Naughty Nightingale’, 2005), a prosperous prostitute is murdered as she is about to enter a television studio to take part in a live talk show. Just before this one of her associates, a young Ukrainian woman, is found on a forest path wearing nothing but a fur coat and boots with stiletto heels with her genitals brutally slashed. And one of Kallio’s female underlings, who has problems with female solidarity, becomes involved in shady business while planning her career.

If Lehtolainen is perhaps excessively politically correct from a feminist point of view, Anja Angel leans firmly in a trendier direction. Laitinen, Angel’s fat and ferocious female private detective and Laitinen’s assistant Marco in Marokkolainen makeinen (‘A Moroccan sweetmeat’, Otava, 2oo4) are both in their way queer and the relationship between them is described with warmth and sympathy, even playfully. Marco becomes rather lice besotted with a young Moroccan he’s supposed to be shadowing; their interaction is much more interesting than the strained plot. Angel is pleasantly different.

Matti Rönkä works as a news editor for Finnish television and has written three books centred on businessman and fixer called Viktor Kärppä. In Ystävät kaukana (‘Friends far away’, Gummerus, 2005), Rönkä’s fantasies of conspiracy have an altogether different and more intimate international flavour than those of Remes. Rönkä’s subject is what is popularly known in Finland as ‘eastern crime’, which includes everything from shady everyday business deals involving fake icons and old fridges to prostitution, drugs and contract murder.

Rönkä’s hero Viktor Kärppä belongs to the category ‘returning emigrant by grace of Koivisto’, i.e. he’s one of those former Soviet citizens of more or less Finnish stock who after the fall of the Soviet Union were granted Finnish citizenship and the right to ‘return’ to a homeland where they had never lived and whose language they couldn’t speak, by the President of the time, Mauno Koivisto (in office 1982­–94). Kärppä has built up a respectable building business in Finland. The sources of his original capital may not bear close inspection, but he no longer has links with drugs and prostitution, lives with a steady partner in a house of their own, and is determined to keep any unpleasant tastes or smells well away from his middle-class Finnish suburb. One day he gets an unwelcome visit from two well-dressed Russian gangsters who scare the wits out of his confused secretary and burn down his house. Someone is about to take over his firm, and it’s high time to find out who.

Rönkä’s two earlier Kärppä books, Tappajan näköinen mies (‘The man who looked like a killer’) and Hyvä veli, paha veli (‘Good brother, bad brother’) are somewhat hampered by tangled plots and a confusing cast of characters. Ystävät kaukana has a better balance between narrator and action, and the course of events is easier to grasp. Rönkä likes his principal characters. He manages to give them personality and individual dialogue, even feelings. The story is a sort of combination of melancholy road movie and picaresque novel, though normal human affections find a place in it too. The evil is not metaphysical but everyday, and the base human motives that lead to crime and deceit sit extremely well within the greater framework.

The border between Finland and Russia is one of the sharpest frontiers between prosperity and poverty in Europe, even in the whole world, and has long been a setting for undercover transactions. Rönkä presents this world with imagination and ingenuity through the story of this small-scale criminal, and the background is thoroughly researched and presented without fuss. Ystävät kaukana is a much smarter, warmer and more truthful book than it claims to be.

But no brief overview of Finnish crime fiction would be complete, however, without a mention of Matti Yrjänä Joensuu. After a career as a policeman spanning three decades and 11 novels, he is still writing though he publishes infrequently and is periodically afflicted by writer’s block. His more recent books have increasingly slipped into a kind of muffled, melancholy prose not normally associated with detective stories and thrillers. In fact, Harjunpää ja rakkauden nälkä (Harjunpää and the hunger for love’, Otava 1993) and Harjunpää ja pahan pappi (Harjunpää and the priest of evil’, 2003) are really meditations over various kinds of major deprivation, whether specifically within the family or the wider society, or more generally and existentially.

Concrete features – parts of dead bodies, crime scenes, victims and wrongdoers alike – have a marked tendency to blend into heavy metaphors for evil, want and suffering, though simultaneously preserving their original concrete quality. No one who has read Harjunpää ja pahan pappi will ever again be able to travel on the Helsinki Metro without being aware of the mysterious potential menace of the underground tunnel system and the shabby lives of those who live in it and never really belong to the daylight world.

Two of Joensuu’s book have been shortlisted for the Finlandia Prize. His concern with the requirements of the crime genre has diminished in inverse proportion to the growth of his obsession with affliction and deprivation. His innovative method of using trivial criminal material as a basis for heavily loaded symbols is literary in an individual and unpredictable way. None of the other books discussed here is unashamedly literary to the same extent.

If we were to arrange these samples of Finnish crime writing on a scale from the most formulaic to the most individual we should get: Remes – Lehtolainen – Angel – Rönkä, with Joensuu a few steps behind Rönkä, the most individual of all.

Remes’s writing is about as memorable as fish fingers, and one may well ask why any of us should be satisfied with such grub in a world that has oysters, goose liver and fresh aparagus to offer. For myself, I’m sure I could do without Remes for the rest of my life, and without fish fingers too.

But the safe comfort food of the intellect can sometimes contain surprises, so it would be rash to consider myself too fine for writers in this genre. Sometimes they have the courage to deviate from the standard recipe, and, losing themselves in some strange byway that really interests them, they may come up with something highly original.

Translated by Silvester Mazzarella

Eight novels by Matti Yrjänä Joensuu have been translated into 13 languages; his Harjunpää ja pahan pappi (‘Harjunpää and the priest of evil’, 2004) was published in England in 2006 by Arcadia Books, translated by David Hackston. Crime novels by Leena Lehtolainen have been translated into ten languages .The first translation of a thriller by Ilkka Remes, Ikiyö (‘Eternal night’, 2004), was published in Germany by dtv in 2005 under the title Ewige Nacht, translated by Stefan Moster.

Best-selling books in September

15 October 2010 | In the news

In September, Finns read crime novels. Matti Yrjänä Joensuu’s latest book featuring his police protagonist Timo Harjunpää, Harjunpää ja rautahuone (‘Harjunpää and the iron room’, Otava), topped the Booksellers’ Association of Finland’s best-seller list.

Joensuu’s Harjunpää ja pahan pappi was published in English in 2006 and reissued in 2008 under the title Priest of Evil. A film adaptation will be released in Finland in late October, directed by Olli Saarela and starring Peter Franzén in the title role.

Number two was the latest thriller from the pseudonymous Ilkka Remes,  Shokkiaalto (‘Shock wave’, WSOY), and number three was Leena Lehtolainen’s Minne tytöt kadonneet (‘Where have all the young girls gone’, Tammi).

Sofi Oksanen’s record-breaking seller and critical success Puhdistus (WSOY; English edition: Purge, Atlantic Books) held strong in fourth place.

In translated fiction, Paul Auster, Diana Gabaldon ja Paulo Coelho headed the list.

The non-fiction list was topped by a study of sociability and social skills by Liisa Keltikangas-Järvinen (Sosiaalisuus ja sosiaaliset taidot, WSOY). Readers seem to be interested in survival, as the number two book was in a similar vein, Lilli Loiri-Seppä’s Selviämistarinoita (‘Stories of coping’ – also translatable as ‘Stories about getting sober’, Gummerus), about how to stop drinking.

Walt Disney was missing again from the top of the children’s list, the number one and number two spots being taken by Finnish picture books, Tatu ja Patu supersankareina (‘Tatu and Patu as superheroes’, Otava) by Aino Havukainen and Sami Toivonen, and Hurja-Harri ja pullon henki (‘Scary Harry and the genie in the bottle’, Otava) by the veteran graphic artist and children’s book author Mauri Kunnas. A new installment of the Ella storybook series by Timo Parvela, Ella ja Yön ritarit (‘Ella and the Knights of the Night’, Tammi) held the number three spot. In September, Finns read crime novels. Matti Yrjänä Joensuu’s latest book featuring his police protagonist Timo Harjunpää, Harjunpää ja rautahuone (‘Harjunpää and the iron room’, Otava), topped the Booksellers’ Association of Finland’s best-seller list.

See the big picture?

9 November 2012 | Extracts, Non-fiction

Details from the cover, graphic design: Työnalle / Taru Staudinger

In his new book Miksi Suomi on Suomi (‘Why Finland is Finland’, Teos, 2012) writer Tommi Uschanov asks whether there is really anything that makes Finland different from other countries. He discovers that the features that nations themselves think distinguish them from other nations are often the same ones that the other nations consider typical of themselves…. In Finland’s case, though, there does seem to be something that genuinely sets it apart: language. In these extracts Uschanov takes a look at the way Finns express themselves verbally – or don’t

Is there actually anything Finnish about Finland?

My own thoughts on this matter have been significantly influenced by the Norwegian social scientist Anders Johansen and his article ‘Soul for Sale’ (1994). In it, he examines the attempts associated with the Lillehammer Winter Olympics to create an ‘image of Norway’ fit for international consumption. Johansen concluded at the time, almost twenty years ago, that there really isn’t anything particularly Norwegian about contemporary Norwegian culture.

There are certainly many things that are characteristic of Norway, but the same things are as characteristic of prosperous contemporary western countries in general. ‘According to Johansen, ‘Norwegianness’ often connotes things that are marks not of Norwegianness but of modernity. ‘Typically Norwegian’ cultural elements originate outside Norway, from many different places. The kind of Norwegian culture which is not to be found anywhere else is confined to folk music, traditional foods and national costumes. And for ordinary Norwegians they are deadly boring, without any living link to everyday life. More…

And the winner is…

27 November 2009 | In the news

Tandefelt: PorvooThe winner of the Finlandia Prize for Non-Fiction 2009, worth €30,000, is Borgå 1809. Ceremoni och fest (‘Borgå [Porvoo] 1809. Ceremony and feast’) by historian Henrika Tandefelt (born 1972; see this review).

The final choice was made by Björn Wahlroos, Chairman of the Board of the Sampo Insurance Group. No doubt the historical period described in Tandefelt’s book is of great interest to Wahlroos, as he is the owner of the Åminne (in Finnish, Joensuu) estate, which is located in the south-west of Finland and dates from the 18th century. Wahlroos has recently restored the manor house to its full 19th-century glory. The Åminne estate was once the home of Gustaf Mauritz Armfelt, a Finnish-born statesman and officer. Armfelt was also King Gustav III’s trusted adviser – and later adjutant-general under Tsar Alexander I in St Petersburg, and finally, before his death, governor-general of Finland (1813). More…

The books that sold

11 March 2011 | In the news

-Today we're off to the Middle Ages Fair. – Oh, right. - Welcome! I'm Knight Orgulf. – I'm a noblewoman. -Who are you? – The plague. *From Fingerpori by Pertti Jarla

Among the ten best-selling Finnish fiction books in 2010, according statistics compiled by the Booksellers’ Association of Finland, were three crime novels.

Number one on the list was the latest thriller by Ilkka Remes, Shokkiaalto (‘Shock wave‘, WSOY). It sold 72,600 copies. Second came a new family novel Totta (‘True’, Otava) by Riikka Pulkkinen, 59,100 copies.

Number three was a new thriller by Reijo Mäki (Kolmijalkainen mies, ‘The three-legged man’, Otava), and a new police novel by Matti Yrjänä Joensuu, Harjunpää ja rautahuone (‘Harjunpää and the iron room’, Otava), was number six.

The Finlandia Fiction Prize winner 2010, Nenäpäivä (‘Nose day’, Teos) by Mikko Rimminen, sold almost 54,000 copies and was fourth on the list. Sofi Oksanen’s record-breaking, prize-winning Puhdistus (Purge, WSOY; first published in 2008) was still in fifth place, with 52,000 copies sold.

Among translated fiction books were, as usual, names like Patricia Cornwell, Dan Brown and Liza Marklund.

In non-fiction, the weather, fickle and fierce, seems to be a subject of endless interest to Finns; the list was topped by Sääpäiväkirja 2011 (‘Weather book 2011’, Otava), with a whopping 140,000 copies. Number two was the Guinness World Records 2011, but with just 43,000 copies. Books on wine, cookery and garden were popular. A book on Finnish history after the civil war, Vihan ja rakkauden liekit (‘Flames of hate and love’, Otava) by Sirpa Kähkönen, made it to number 8 on the list.

The Finnish children’s books best-sellers’ list was topped by the latest picture book by Mauri Kunnas, Hurja-Harri ja pullon henki (‘Wild Harry and the genie’, Otava), selling almost 66,000 copies. As usual, Walt Disney ruled the roost in the translated fiction list.

The Finnish comics list was dominated by Pertti Jarla (his Fingerpori series books sold more than 70,000 copies, almost as much as Remes’ Shokkiaalto!) and Juba Tuomola (Viivi and Wagner series; both mostly published by Arktinen Banaani): between them, they grabbed 14 places out of 20!

What Finland read in November

17 December 2010 | In the news

Superheroes: Tatu and Patu by Aino Havukainen & Sami Toivonen

In November the latest thriller by Ilkka Remes, Shokkiaalto (‘Shock wave’, WSOY) topped the Booksellers’ Association of Finland’s list of the best-selling Finnish fiction. Sofi Oksanen’s prize-winning, much-translated 2008 novel Puhdistus (Purge, WSOY), has not left the best-selling list since it was awarded the Finlandia Prize for Fiction this autumn and was now number two.

Riikka Pulkkinen’s novel Totta (‘True’, Otava) was number three, and Tuomas Kyrö’s colllection of episodes from a grumpy old man’s life as told by himself, Mielensäpahoittaja (‘Taking offense’, WSOY), from last spring, occupied fourth place.

A new novel, Harjunpää ja rautahuone (‘Harjunpää and the iron room’, Otava), by the grand old man of Finnish crime, ex-policeman Matti Yrjänä Joensuu, was number five.

The most popular children’s book was a new picture book about two inventive and curious brothers, Tatu ja Patu supersankareina (‘Tatu and Patu as superheroes’, Otava) by Aino Havukainen and Sami Toivonen.

On the translated fiction list were books by, among others, Ildefonso Falcones, Jo Nesbø, Lee Child, Stephen King, Paulo Coelho and Paul Auster.

The non-fiction list included the traditional annual encyclopaedia Mitä missä milloin (‘What, where, when’, Otava, second place) as well as a political skit entitled Kuka mitä häh (‘Who what eh’, Otava) by Pekka Ervasti and Timo Haapala – the latter sold better, coming in at number one. In November the latest thriller by Ilkka Remes, Shokkiaalto (‘Shock wave’, WSOY) topped the Booksellers’ Association of Finland’s list of the best-selling Finnish fiction.