Tuesday, November 24, 2009

SNOW ANGELS - James Thompson

FIRST LINE: "I'm in Hullu Poro, The Crazy Reindeer, the biggest bar and restaurant in this part of the Arctic Circle."

James Thompson's debut novel, SNOW ANGELS, features Inspector Kari Vaara investigating the brutal murder, and possible hate crime, of a beautiful, well-known Somali immigrant...in Lapland...near Christmas...on a reindeer farm.

As Inspector Kari Vaara begins to investigate this murder, he discovers ties to his ex-wife and her present lover, as well as ties to the son of one of his detectives. The closer he comes to the case, the more his pregnant, American wife begs him to back away before something disastrous happens.

For those who may not be aware, as I was not before I started this book, Lapland, Finland in December is night 24 hours a day; they call it Kaamos. The day-long dark contrasted against the stark white snow is perfect symbolism for this stunning crime novel. It is chock full of contrast. The setting is the most visual use of contrast in the book:

"The black-and-yellow crime scene tape looks out of place on a reindeer farm. The spot where Sufia's body lay is a bloody hole gouged in the snow, like an empty eye socket. The scene will be torn to bits soon, when forest animals smell the blood and come looking. It doesn't matter. It will be buried in fresh snow before long anyway."
Thompson himself was born and raised in Kentucky but has lived the last ten years in Finland. He brings his two worlds together through Inspector Vaara and his American wife, Kate. Through their union he is able to incorporate a lot of contrast between the two countries in the way they think, the way they live, the way they deal with crime:

" 'In the States, they have TV commercials for Viagra, cosmetic surgery, antidepressants. They ask 'Are you tired in the morning, stressed at work, have trouble sleeping at night?' By the time they run through the list of symptoms, they've included everybody. People believe they're depressed and go running to the doctor begging for drugs. Here, you've got a guy talking to imaginary friends on a pay phone, and they not only don't treat him, they disconnect the line but leave the phone booth so he can be happy. That's community and I like it.' "
And sometimes the starkest contrast occurs in perceptions:

"Because of the circumstances of her death, I had canonized Sufia slowly but surely over the past day. Sufia, the snow angel - that was a mistake, I know nothing about her. To get to the truth, I need to see her as she was."
Thompson emphasizes how silent a culture Finland fosters, and this lends itself well to the traditional noir hero. That makes the use of the first person point of view vital to the reader's connection with Vaara. If the reader could not hear what was going on in Vaara's head, he/she would have no idea of the conflict he's incurring. Instead, he would come off as an emotionless robot.

"We don't talk about hatred, we hate in silence. It's our way. We do everything in silence."
Vaara in many ways is very much alone in his investigation, partly by circumstance and partly because of this culture of silence. But his relationship to Kate is close and life-renewing for him, again contrasting with his first marriage that destroyed him emotionally. Kate has to step away and let Vaara deal with the case alone, but she tells him that she'll be there when he returns.

Written in the tradition of classic noir, SNOW ANGELS quickly pulls the reader in to this foreign, exotic land draped in darkness. This is an essential debut for the noir lover, so bring your flashlight, let's read.

SNOW ANGELS will be released by G.P. Putnam's Sons on January 7, 2010, but the folks at Putnam have informed me that there are giveaway contests going on at Goodreads and LibraryThing right now. You have until November 29th to enter at LibraryThing and until December 2nd to enter at Goodreads. And of course, it's also available now for pre-order as well.


Diane November 26, 2009 at 10:02 AM  

I love the cover of this one. Sets the mood.

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