Review by Chris Mattix
James Thompson has slowly but surely made a name for himself as an author to watch in the world of crime fiction. His series character Kari Vaara, a man who seems to get a little rougher around the edges with each novel, has quickly become one of my current favorites. In Thompson’s latest novel, Helsinki Blood, Vaara is even more battered and bruised, and the end result is a surprisingly action-packed story about redemption and the need to protect the ones we love.
Helsinki Blood picks up right where Helsinki White left off. Kari Vaara is still recovering from the gruesome events that concluded the last novel. His wife, Kate, is suffering from post traumatic stress disorder after killing a man to save Kari and his friends, and because of this she has run off with their child. In Helsinki White Kari was diagnosed with a brain tumor and underwent surgery to fix the problem, leaving him emotionally flat. He is still recovering, both emotionally and physically, when we meet him at the beginning of Helsinki Blood.
In his fourth novel, Thompson forgoes the tried and true formula of a mystery-driven plot and instead opts to flesh out the emotional fallout caused by Kari’s job as head of a secret police task force. He made a lot of enemies because of his work, and now those enemies are rallying against him and his colleagues; Milo and Sweetness. Because of this Helsinki Blood reads more like Helsinki White version 2.0 than a standalone novel, but that’s not a bad thing.
Often times authors in the crime genre write characters who seem invincible, but Thompson is happy to dive head first into the psychological issues that plague ordinary people who have faced extreme circumstances. All of this works to deepen the scope of the characters. By the end of Helsinki Blood you feel as though you really understand the motivations behind the actions. Each character is given care and attention, which humanizes them on a level few writers ever reach.
It’s a shame that Thompson isn’t a bigger name, because his novels tell stories in a fresh and unique way. For now, he is one of those authors whose name is dropped by others working in the genre, but don’t be surprised if you start hearing it more frequently. The appeal of the Kari Vaara series is broad enough for fans of all types of crime fiction. I picked up Thompson’s first novel, Snow Angels, on a whim and now I eagerly await new material. If you give him a chance, Thompson will make a believer out of you as well.