Chasing a cross-dressing serial killer through a tunnel beneath Helsinki, Timo Harjunpää, the hero of The Priest of Evil by Matti-Yrjänä Joensuu, pulls out his gun and then pauses to consider the health and safety implications of what he's doing. 'He recalled that this communal tunnel was used for almost everything: water and drainage, heating, electricity, telephone cables. It also occurred to him that he ought to be wearing a hard hat, as the rock-faces hadn't been secured with concrete.' These sensible observations, made while running through the dark in pursuit of a man who likes to drink pigeons' blood, are fairly typical of the current wave of Nordic crime fiction. Even while uncovering the nasty secrets of their prosperous social democracies, the heroes are often reflexively concerned with enlightened workplace practices and the everyday machinery of communal wellbeing. Henning Mankell's Inspector Wallander, whose popularity is responsible for the huge number of translations being published, is particularly vexed by under-regulation. 'They have no insurance,' an appalled policeman tells him at a crime scene thronging with ill-protected workers in Faceless Killers (1991). 'If we hadn't had this damned double murder to solve, we could have cleaned up that shit.'
LRB 17 August 2006 | PDF Download