Published by Orenda Books
Publication date – 3 September 2015
Source – review copy
Translated by David Hackston
“When an old man is found dead on the road – seemingly run over by a Hungarian au pair – police investigator Anna Fekete is certain that there is more to the incident than meets the eye. As she begins to unravel an increasingly complex case, she’s led on a deadly trail where illegal immigration, drugs and, ultimately, murder threaten not only her beliefs, but her life.
Anna’s partner Esko is entrenched in a separate but equally dangerous investigation into the activities of an immigrant gang, where deportation orders and raids cause increasing tension and result in desperate measures by gang members – and the police themselves.
Then a bloody knife is found in the snow, and the two cases come together in ways that no one could have predicted. As pressure mounts, it becomes clear that having the law on their side may not be enough for Anna and Esko.
Chilling, disturbing and terrifyingly believable, The Defenceless is an extraordinary, vivid and gripping thriller by one of the most exciting new voices in crime fiction.”
3.5 of 5 stars
An old man has been found run over, seemingly an accident involving a young Hungarian au pair. Anna has been called in to investigate, given her common language with the suspect. Meanwhile her partner Esko is investigating an immigrant gang, who are trying to muscle in on Hell Angels drug dealing territory. It is only when a knife and a pool of blood is found that the two investigations begin to merge together.
Given the refugee crisis that has enveloped the world at the time of reading this story echoes what has been happening over Europe as those seeking help from persecution leave their homelands. This I think makes it even more hard hitting and poignant.
There is something inexplicably sad about this book. That sadness runs throughout the story, echoing almost the long nights of a Finnish winter. Part of the sadness comes from Anna and Esko, both having their own reasons for being sad and unsatisfied with life. The main darkness comes from the story of Sammy, the Afghan illegal immigrant. I will say no more about his involvement in the story for fear of spoiling the same.
Esko’s inherent racism was apparent in full force. Whilst it is part of his character and the racist language is necessary to some point to show his prejudices I did find it upsetting and the constant exposure to it was at times draining.
I would have liked to see more character development. There is a little of Anna and Esko’s separate histories hinted at, though little is revealed. I can see though that this is the author’s intention and that more will be revealed in future stories. There were some aspects of Anna I found contradictory, though this perhaps is a commentary on people as a whole. For example she is very aware of Esko’s alcoholism but then promises herself she will go out and get drunk. It was good to see more of Anna’s relationship with her family emerge, and her feelings regarding where she fits in life, where is ‘home’ were interesting reading.
I had commented in my review of The Hummingbird that for me the translation was obvious. By this I mean that I could tell I was reading a translation as some of the words used were colloquial to England. That was not the case with this book. The translation seemed to feel more true to the original, an assumption of course, but one that for me shows the signs of a good translation.
I was however drawn to the book. I wanted to keep reading to find out what had happened and why. The fact that I wanted to read on despite my deep loathing of Esko is an indicator of a good story-teller. Part of what drew me to the book was the location. I love the setting of this book. I found the social commentary on Finland, its cultures, values and views that were decpicted fascinating. I will be looking out for more books by Kati Hiekkapelto, all the while hoping she perhaps makes Esko less of a racist, sexist dinosaur.
This isn’t easy reading. It is not a cosy crime drama. It is a thought-provoking, at times dark read, that is also a commentary on asylum seekers and those who decide who stays and who goes.
Whilst this is the second book in the Anna Fekete series you do not need to have read The Hummingbird, the first book, before reading The Defenceless. I’ll be keeping a look out for book three.