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nothing but the truth

29 december 2023

Jarkko Sipila's Nothing But the Truth was originally titled (in Finland in 2006) Mitään salaamatta, which (says Google Translate) means something closer to "The Whole Truth." In any case, the title alludes to the oath taken, in Finland as in the U.S., by a witness about to testify in court. Nothing But the Truth is not much of a murder mystery (the crime is solved and the killers convicted by the halfway mark in the novel), but it becomes a novel of ideas about the position that witnesses play in an adversarial justice system, when the adversaries include lethally-armed cops on one side and lethally-armed drug-lords on the other.

One of the drug-lords, Risto Korpi, orders a hit on a peddler who's cheated him. The killer is easily caught, but so is Korpi, who inexplicably makes the mistake of driving the getaway car himself. Mari Lehtonen, a single mom who works at a mid-level office job, an unexceptional but honest citizen, sees Korpi and confidently, correctly identifies him in court.

Korpi goes to prison for life (again, just halfway through the novel), and now the real plot begins. Against the sound advice of his lawyer, Korpi is determined to make Lehtonen's life hell. The police can't do much to protect her. Like Sam Wiebe's Vancouver, Sipila's Helsinki is a peaceful, tolerant city in a welfare state that honors human rights – and for that very reason seems overrun with implacable, untouchable villains.

Things play out rather unbelievably, in an exaggerated and lurid manner. But for a while, Nothing But the Truth poses some tough questions about the rights of the accused and those of the accusers. And as in Sipila's other Helsinki fictions, the cops themselves (Lieutenant Kari Takamäki and his team, including Sergeant Anna Joutsamo and the dashing "undercover" agent Suhonen, who spends a lot of time hanging out openly with cops for a master of disguise), are well-drawn and intriguing characters. The dialogue is sharp and the action continuous.

I will read more of Sipila's fiction, though weirdly, another of his Takamäki series, titled Cold Trail in English, currently can't be had for under $50, with some copies listing for as much as $450. His other books – ordinary paperbacks like Nothing But the Truth – go for $6.95 or so, and Cold Trail isn't a rare book. Some glitch has led to algorithms overpricing it everywhere it's available. I wonder if any seller will ever notice that copies aren't selling, and lower it back to the prices its peers command.

Sipila, Jarkko. Nothing But the Truth. [Mitään salaamatta, 2006.] Translated by Peter Ylitalo Leppa. Independence, MN: Ice Cold Crime, 2011.