Monday, June 26, 2006

Finnish Lines

I’ve often been impressed with Bob Cornwell’s in-depth profiles on the Tangled Web UK site, whether his subject was Julian Rathbone, Newton Thornburg, or Robert Ferrigno. Now he’s posted an exchange with Matti Yrjänä Joensuu. Despite his being described as “Finland’s most distinguished crime writer,” I must confess that I had not previously heard of Joensuu, a onetime journalist who is set to retire soon from the Helsinki police force after 35 years on the job, most recently having been assigned to the Arson & Explosives Unit. This ignorance on my part seems all the more shocking, when you consider that Joensuu has been penning police procedurals ever since 1976, and that he’s been shortlisted twice for Finland’s major literary award, the Finlandia Prize. According to Cornwell, his work has been praised for its “social criticism, strong sense of drama, his logical narration and precise use of language.”

Joensuu is the creator of Helsinki policeman Detective Sergeant Timo Harjunpää, who’s so far starred in 11 novels, most recently Harjunpää and the Priest of Evil, published in Finland in 2003, but made available in Britain only last month under the title The Priest of Evil (translated by David Hackston). Of Priest, Cornwell writes:
Dealing with Harjunpää’s investigation into the apparent suicide of a young man who has thrown himself under a Helsinki underground train, it is a thoughtful and provoking work in which all of Joensuu’s qualities as a writer are evident, along with the striking realism that comes from a lifetime’s experience as a working policeman. Also apparent, as noted elsewhere, is his increasing tendency to move into ‘the inner worlds of his characters, into their dreams, their thoughts and delusions.’
Cornwell goes on to ask the Finnish novelist about his decade-long creative hiatus, mental illness and the welfare of children, his fondness for Georges Simenon, evidence of autobiographical parallels in his fiction, and Helsinki’s network of underground tunnels, which helped inspire the action in The Priest of Evil. He even delivers a little history of Finnish mystery fiction. All in all, a piece well worth reading--especially if you’re a newcomer to Joensuu’s prose.

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