With this title, the journalist certainly has given me a lot to live up to.
American James Thompson third installment in the Inspector Vaara series, Helsinki White, was released earlier this year.
Kari Vaara’s lack of empathy seems to be the most discussed aspect of Helsinki White among your fans. Can you give us an insight on why you wanted your character to go through this?
A couple reasons. One, after brain surgery, having no side-effects wouldn’t ring true. After a long discussion with a neurologist consultant, I thought this very common side effect would both allow him to return to work quickly, as is often the case, and provide interesting possibilities in the storytelling. Two, I did for the readers. I don’t want my audience, every year, to think, Oh, there’s a new James Thompson novel out. Ho hum. I want them to feel eagerness to get the new book in their hands in anticipation of what I will bring them next.
In previous works, Kari’s American wife Kate could be described as a giving someone unfamiliar to Finland the introduction to the country, but in this book she plays an even more active role. How important is her development to the series?
Terribly important. The series wouldn’t be nearly as successful without her. The story is told in the first person present by a fairly average Finnish man. The lens is tightly focused on his thoughts moment to moment. Kate forces him to think about the differences between their cultures and sometimes explain them to her. Without Kate, there would be no reason for him to consider these issues at all, and to relate them would be nonsensical lecturing.
Finns are notorious about their fascination with what the world thinks about them, and once again some Finnish readers are upset that you paint a dark picture of this country. Does this criticism impact your writing?
The books are set in Finland. I write dark Nordic noir. Finns and foreigners alike should realize that I write fiction. FICTION. FICTION. There are elements of truth as I discuss social problems, but all places have social problems. I’m true to my chosen genre and its traditions. Thinking readers understand this. To quote, in translation, a review of Helsinki White (Valkoinen viha) from Helsingin Sanomat, “The U.S.-born Thompson, who has made his home in Helsinki, is heir to the dark, American noir crime novel, and a wretched world view is part of the genre” I won’t write about moomis and Easter bunnies. Did I mention that I write FICTION? It doesn’t impact my writing in the least. If you don’t like Nordic noir, don’t read my books.
Your short non-fiction piece at the end of the book, talking about “a new era of racial hatred in Europe,” is striking. What did your publishers think about this, and why did you want it included?
The novel is in part true crime, and racial hatred has come to play a part in Finnish politics. As such, it affects all our futures throughout the Nordic countries. When I wrote the piece, Anders Behring Breivik had just committed the mass murder of children in Norway. It cast the depth of the problem of racism in the Nordic region into sharp relief. We truly are in a new era of racial hatred in Europe. That atrocity was the best illustration of this imaginable. So I wrote the piece, and my publisher applauded the idea.
Is there anything else you want to say?
It isn’t possible to intuit the beliefs or character of an author from fictional writing. Only a fool would believe otherwise. I could write a story from the perspective of a nine-year-old, and make readers believe a nine-year-old truly had written it. I’ve come under personal attack lately by politically motivated people wishing to discredit both me and my writing. I promise that readers know little or nothing about me or my beliefs, other than I’m an opponent of racism, because of the piece you mentioned at the end of the book. The people attacking me would likely be surprised to discover that I agree with them on some issues. As they know nothing about me, their opinions of me are meaningless to me, and so their efforts are wasted. I will continue to write what I wish. Nothing will change that.
Cognitive Resonance: by author John Meaney
Meanwhile, anyone looking for some Nordic noir to read should check out James Thompson’s terrific Finnish crime novels. Dark and deep, with all the poetic power of James Lee Burke, in a very different setting that comes beautifully to life. I’ve read Snow Angels and Lucifer’s Tears back to back, and I’m waiting for those lovely Amazon people (actually a reseller) to deliver the 3rd book, Helsinki White. Marvelous.
Helsinki White is Jim Thompson’s third Nordic thriller (see my earlier post on his first two books). Finland may have been named best-country-to-live-in by economists a few years back, but it seems to have been caught up in the same rise of racist fascism that’s infecting its neighbours – the political background to this book is serious indeed. One of my Swedish friends knew Stieg Larsson very well – this is fighting the same good fight, and it needs to be done.
Thompson also manages something quite daring: the protagonist and his colleagues act in a gung-ho armed-and-dangerous fashion (different from the previous books), which superficially resembles a Chris Ryan/Stephen Leather thriller – while at the same time, the reader understands that there is something deeply wrong with their operating this way. Intelligent risk-taking – it makes me wonder what unexpected direction the fourth book will take.
Best to All – James