Review: LIGHT IN A DARK HOUSE by Jan Costin Wagner

LightInADarkHouseWagner21931_fI’ve just had a look at my review of this novel’s predecessor and realise I could start this review in exactly the same way. LIGHT IN A DARK HOUSE is (also) a peculiar book. I’m not sure if the fact I liked it very much makes me peculiar too though I can live with it either way.

It opens with a party. The police of Turku in Finland are gathered in celebration of someone’s birthday and detective Kimmo Joentaa is there with his girlfriend, a prostitute he knows by the name Larissa. She appears to recognise Kimmo’s boss and this fact – and its implications – indirectly causes a rift between the two which prompts Larissa to abruptly disappear from Kimmo’s life.

Professionally he begins working on the unusual case of attempting to identify a woman who had been comatose in a local hospital until she was murdered. Appeals to the public for help with the identification generate more than 2000 tips but none, at first, appear to offer genuine information and the case languishes in a way that probably happens quite often in the real world but is almost unheard of in crime fiction. As the months pass small advances are made and other information is revealed, often to the reader before Joentaa, that indicates who the woman might be and what event might relate to her death. A grim story indeed.

So the novel is not one for those keen on plots that move at a clip, nor those disinterested in characters of moody introspection. Kimmo Joentaa rivals Icelandic fictional detective Erlunder in this regard. And perhaps during some other week or in the hands of a less skilled writer I would have been bored but I was quite entranced by this book.

It is as much a love story as it is a crime novel with Kimmo’s love for his dead wife coexisting with his longing for the reappearance of Larissa. His attempts to maintain their tenuous relationship – one-sided as they mostly are – are at once heart breaking and heart warming. I think what I liked so much about Kimmo is the rarity of seeing a man with troubles depicted without turning to alcohol or violence as the ‘go to’ solutions.

The second half of the novel does move at a faster pace (all things are relative of course) as deaths in another jurisdiction appear to have some connection to the Turku case. Joentaa hooks up with two other policemen and a more procedural tone develops although even here it is generally left-of-centre thinking that propels things forward.

Ultimately this seems to me to be a book in which the traditionally strong elements of crime fiction – the procedural, the whodunit, the suspense-fuelled plot  – are almost non-existent. It is primarily a novel of moodiness, esoteric details and thoughtful character development, though the case at its heart, which stems from an incident of brutal violence, is ultimately resolved in a way that would satisfy most fans of the more traditional forms of the genre. I suspect the book is not for everyone but I will admit to being very taken with it indeed.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Translator Anthea Bell (from German)
Publisher Harvill Secker [2013]
ISBN 9781846556531
Length 325
Format paperback
Book Series #4 in Kimmo Joentaa series

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5 Responses to Review: LIGHT IN A DARK HOUSE by Jan Costin Wagner

  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    Bernadette – I’m glad you liked this one. Interesting isn’t it how much the kind of week it is/mood you’re in affect what you think of a book. I’ve had more than one instance of deciding not to finish a book, only to pick it up a week/month/whatever later and enjoy it. I liked the other Wagner I read; sounds like this is worth a read too.


  2. Belle Wong says:

    I do normally like a fast plot, but this one sounds like it might be worth a try for me.


  3. Col says:

    I’ve not tried this author yet, not over-long which is a plus point but I’ll hold fire for now.


  4. Sarah says:

    He does write peculiar books. I agree!


  5. says:


    Hello – I know I have written to you before about your wonderful reviews!  I have gone through 3 years of reviews you have posted. I only write down the 4.5 or 5 star reviews to read. And somewhere in between 2013 and 2014 you stopped compiling stars in your reviews altogether. Do you have reviews with the star rating going back further than 2010? A problem I am having is that living in the US, not all books are available that you read. It is really very frustrating. Do you know where I can download books that you review? I have  searched online for websites to download from but without much luck. I have a Nook and B&N does not offer the books you read – only once in awhile. I like ebooks but will read the hardcover if I can’t find it otherwise. I must have hundreds of books that I have read that do not really sell so I store them.  Anyway, can I send you money through paypal? Please let me. You do not realize how much I enjoy your lists and reviews and suggestions. I searched for days and finally found an audio book of “The Redemption of Alexander Seaton” and it was awesome! I listened to it in my car driving to Louisiana. I don’t even like to read any other reviews now. You are spot on and I am so happy to have found you! Sincerely, Maureen


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