Shattered by grief, Detective Kimmo Joentaa is barely able to navigate the days following his wife's death from cancer, throwing himself into his work and a baffling case, a seemingly random murder: "It dawned on him that her murder, the death of another human being, had breathed life into himself." As the body count of inexplicable murders rises by the day, the detective is increasingly convinced that this is the work of one man, a serial killer compulsively acting out his demons. The murderer leaves no clues behind for the police to use in building a case, so innocuous as to be unnoticed by anyone as he enters and exits the murder scenes. Meanwhile, Joentaa's coworkers, especially his boss, are pressured to solve the crime wave that s frightening the citizens of Finland.
Wrapped in the painful reality of his harrowing grief, Joentaa intuitively recognizes the killer, a least feels a sort of empathy, sensing a lonely, alienated individual. Torn between interviewing the various people connected with the victims, their friends and spouses, the detective discovers that when he finally opens up to a relative stranger about his recent loss, he is also able to focus more clearly on the murders, eventually recognizing the man who has walked, invincible, through the lives of his victims. It is shocking to Joentaa that he has met the murderer and failed to recognize him at once.
The Finnish landscape and a clear, if, detached, writing style gives this crime novel an interesting patina, a removal from the emotions of the moment, as both Joentaa and the murderer retreat into more bearable territory. But, like the cool, distant moon that follows the killer's actions, this icy remove evaporates as reality demands recognition. Although I enjoyed the distance in the writing and the attention to emotional detail, the lack of passion that permeates the book also served to alienate me from the characters to some degree. A great fan of the work of Karen Fossum, I found Wagner's approach similar, but I failed to make a connection, other that my original interest in the beautiful rendering of the detective's personal loss at the beginning of the novel. Whether esoteric or merely passionless, I cannot tell. Luan Gaines/2007.