home     authors     titles     dates     links     about

against the wall

6 october 2022

Jarkko Sipila's Against the Wall is one of these populous procedurals where the editors helpfully supply a cast of characters at the beginning, since otherwise there would be no chance of telling the various hoodlums and gumshoes apart, even if one spoke Finnish and names like "Juha Saarnikangas" were second nature.

A dead body turns up in a garage on the outskirts of Helsinki. Well, it's a bit more complicated. We see the murder happen and we see Juha Saarnikangas freak out when he is instructed, by a gangster he owes money to, to dispose of the body somewhere. Instead, Saarnikangas tells an undercover cop named Suhonen where he might find the body.

This makes Juha Saarnikangas suspect number one for Kari Takamäki and his Violent Crimes Unit. But why would a killer lead the police to a corpse? Meanwhile we see various criminals in action at the same time as we see the detectives work to track them down. Smuggling, gang vendettas, and other sordid goings-on prove to be the motive for the murder, but the killer himself eludes justice, for a couple of hundred pages anyway.

Takamäki is the series hero, but Suhonen is the pivot on which the story turns. Suhonen has a foot in both worlds. He is at once a star of the VCU and a figure in the Helsinki underworld, going by his alter ego Suikkanen. One intriguing scene shows Suhonen trying to improvise as he morphs into Suikkanen – what would his tough-crook counterpart do in this situation? Another has Suikkanen proving himself to a bad guy by challenging some cops, while having to clue the cops in that he is Suhonen while remaining Suikkanen to the criminal. Good stuff.

Sipila writes exciting scenes in a methodical, fact-filled prose, and Peter Ylitalo Leppa's English translation is crisp. There is not much deep psychological angst here, no buried second-world-war secrets, no serial killers – it's literally just cops and robbers. Against the Wall is a good workmanlike Krimi that reads like a nicely-elaborated TV episode. Uncoincidentally, Jarkko Sipila is a TV crime reporter and helped turn his Takamäki novels into a TV series.

Sipila, Jarkko. Against the Wall. [Seinää Vasten, 2008.] Translated by Peter Ylitalo Leppa. 2009. Independence, MN: Ice Cold Crime, 2012.