The Hummingbird by Kati Hiekkapelto

hummingbirdIt is a generally accepted truth that exercise is good for you. It is also suggested that part of your regular workout should include a period of vigorous effort that pushes you out of your comfort zone and gets your heart rate up. Alternatively you could just read The Hummingbird, the debut novel from Finnish author Kati Hiekkapelto, and allow her writing to achieve both of those goals without you leaving your chair.

The main protagonist of the novel is Anna Fekete, a female lead with a complicated background that will no doubt be further explored as this series develops. On her first day in a new job, switching uniform for the detective scruffs of the Violent Crimes Unit, the body of a girl is found in woods with her head blown off. We’ve already run with the girl and felt her fear but it is Anna’s job to piece together what happened whilst also trying to find her place in a new station with new colleagues and come to terms with her past.

There is no time to settle into her new job, back in the city where she spent much of her childhood following her family’s escape from conflict in the Balkans.  She quickly finds herself on the hunt of a possible serial killer, whilst spending her evenings off duty trying protect a girl she is convinced is a victim of honour violence and reconcile with her brother, who’s experience as an immigrant in Finland is as much a case study in failed integration as her own is of success. The encroaching darkness of the Finnish winter and the inability to switch off from pressures on so many fronts combine to create an intense atmosphere as Anna sacrifices her own mental state in trying not to let anyone down.

These different threads of story, which could threaten to overwhelm the reader, are handled well. Kurdish teenager Bihar tells her story through an extended e-mail that is intertwined with Anna’s ongoing attempts to protect her from a controlling, possibly dangerous, family, whilst the different personalities and backgrounds of the police station are revealed through their interactions with the new recruit. It feels natural as we are drawn deeper into the lives of the key people and their personal stories are expertly interwoven with the police investigation.

The only real criticism is that there was a sense that the main investigation came to a slightly abrupt ending and the horror of the crime wasn’t really justified in the motivation and psychology of the murderer. As the investigation unfolded there had been opportunities to speculate as a reader and try to work out what was happening but again when the truth was revealed it was nothing that could have been guessed at. It felt a little like an end was needed and so one was pulled out of a hat, which left a slightly unsatisfied feeling.

Having said that, for a first novel The Hummingbird delivers a lot. The perspectives on immigration feel genuine and are insightful and the writing is atmospheric and absorbing. The two police investigations, one official and one not, are balanced well and the characters are rounded and appealing such that you want to know what will happen next in both their professional and personal lives. A second instalment is on the way and I look forward to following the careers of both Anna Fekete and Kati Hiekkapelto.

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