Author: Risto Hannula

A policeman’s crimes

Issue 4/1985 | 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…