I’ve read quite a bit of Nordic crime fiction, but I believe Lehtolainen’s fourth entry in her Maria Kallio series is the first Finnish police procedural I’ve read.** As in most crime novel series, jumping in at the fourth book wasn’t a problem, but I enjoyed it enough to go back and read the first three (the series begins with MY FIRST MURDER). I’d enjoy watching Detective Kallio’s character development to the point that SNOW WOMAN begins, which is at a women’s retreat run by Elina Rosberg, where Detective Kallio has been sent to do a presentation as outreach. The session erupts into a spirited discussion of women’s rights, the responsibilities of rape victims, abortion, birth control, and religion, divorce and custody, and the abuses of male police officers. A few weeks later, Elina’s aunt, Aira, calls Detective Kallio to ask for her help: Elina is missing. Though it isn’t her department’s responsibility, she agrees to look into the disappearance and, once Elina’s body turns up in the snow, the murder.
Meanwhile, Markku Malmberg, a violent criminal put in prison by Detective Kallio and her partner the previous fall, escapes, and naturally comes after the two detectives who caught him. As if this weren’t enough stress, Detective Kallio is also facing an unplanned pregnancy. Lehtolainen weaves these three threads together to examine an array of women’s issues in an effective way. Malmberg feels particularly vicious toward Detective Kallio because of her gender, but even her allies are problematic: Detective Strom is constantly belittling and taunting Detective Kallio and can’t seem to talk for more than a sentence or two without some sexist comment. As a result of being a woman in a male-centered profession, Detective Kallio has learned to conceal weakness. She’s an excellent detective, but that isn’t enough for a female police officer, so she has cultivated a hard shell to protect herself.
The bleak Finnish winter is a fantastic setting, and the characters are complex and interesting. Even sexist Strom is not reduced to a stereotype – he and Kallio have some surprising bonding moments that add further dimension to both characters. Some readers may find the heavy issues distracting from the murder mystery and thriller plots, but I found them thought-provoking and felt they rounded out the standard police procedural quite nicely.
Read this book on a hot summer day – the frozen Espoo winter colors all the events in the book.
**(While googling/Goodreads-searching to verify this, I came across this rather interesting little article on Finnish crime novels, including a blurb with quotations from Lehtolainen.)
Source disclosure: I received an e-galley of this title courtesy of the publisher.