Review: THE HUMMINGBIRD by Kati Hiekkapelto

TheHummingbirdKatiHiekkap23799_fTHE HUMMINGBIRD opens by introducing us to Anna Fekete experiencing the first day on her new job as a senior detective in an unnamed town in northern Finland. Initially expecting to ease into her new role instead she must get up to speed suddenly when a young girl’s call to emergency services appears very troubling and then the body of a jogger is found. These two cases, which rarely for crime fiction do not become linked over time, come to haunt the members of the Crime Unit in various ways.

Although very much a procedural novel THE HUMMINGBIRD is at least as interested in its characters as it is in solving the crimes committed within it. And as the centrepiece of the investigative team Anna makes for interesting reading. She is a lifelong outsider. As a child she was part of a minority population – a Hungarian in the former Yugoslavia – and when she moved with her family to Finland she was an immigrant. Even now, despite her having lived in the country since she was seven and served with the Finish military, her immigrant status is the most significant thing about her for many people, even those who view it as a positive thing. Anna’s sense of isolation is depicted very credibly, manifesting itself in numerous ways. Although this theme is not a new one for fiction to explore I thought Hiekkapelto did an above average job of letting the reader really get a sense of what a grind it must be to always feel as if you don’t quite belong.

One of her new colleagues, a middle-aged policeman named Esko, does not attempt to hide his racism from the moment they first meet. This is not an auspicious beginning to a relationship and I was a little wary that it would tread a very predictable path but ultimately it proves to be a highlight of the book when it veers away from the norm. It is certainly a very believable depiction of this kind of tension that is repeated the world over. The team is rounded out by two more colleagues, both of whom are a lot more sympathetic towards Anna and add interesting elements of the story in their own right. Sari is the policewoman who appears to ‘have it all’ – a loving husband and two children on top of the great job – while their male colleague Rauno is struggling to keep his own marriage intact.

Hiekkapelto does not forget to develop a decent plot and the crimes here are both complex; requiring a good deal of investigative shoe leather. Anna becomes somewhat fixated on the case of Bihar: the young Kurdish girl who rang emergency services claiming her father was going to kill her then recanted when police visited the house. Although told to leave the matter alone due to lack of evidence she is convinced that something is wrong and uses what free time she has to keep an eye on the family. It’s not much of a stretch to see that she identifies with Bihar on some level which makes her fixation entirely understandable. Meanwhile the case of the murdered runner proves a difficult one for the team and a couple more bodies have to pile up before there is a satisfactory resolution. n some ways this main plot thread was the least interesting part of the book for me but only because the rest of it was so good.

There are a few wooly elements to this debut novel – such as the unnecessary inclusion of a minor thread in which both Anna and Sari are threatened by mysterious texts – but overall I thoroughly enjoyed meeting Anna and the rest of the team. I liked the way that this was allowed to be a character driven novel that still had a strong plot and explored some interesting themes such as what seems to be a thorny issue in all countries: immigration. I am already looking forward to the next installment of the series which is due to be translated into English this year.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Translator David Hackston
Publisher Arcadia Books [this translation 2014]
ISBN 9781909807563
Length 363 pages
Format paperback
Book Series #1 in the Anna Fekete series

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5 Responses to Review: THE HUMMINGBIRD by Kati Hiekkapelto

  1. Patti Abbott says:

    My favorite combination to: police procedural but with memorable well-developed characters. Tana French would be a great example. And Jo Nesbo, of course.


  2. Margot Kinberg says:

    Very glad you enjoyed this, Bernadette. And it sounds like an interesting way to make Anna distinctive without it being too contrived. And even though it’s a bit long, it doesn’t appear to be a doorstop-sized novel, either – always a plus for me.


  3. kathy d. says:

    Glad you liked it despite the fuzzy areas. Definitely a plus with a woman protagonist and the immigrant issue is always interesting.
    Eva Dolan’s Long Way Home deals with the exploitation of migrant workers in England and she writes it well.
    So, I guess I’ll read this one. At this point 363 pages isn’t a daunting size. These days that’s short compared to the 600-800 page tomes. (A friend couldn’t read The Goldfinch because it was too heavy to hold.)
    And I’ll buy it as this library system buys so little global fiction, crime or otherwise.


  4. Belle Wong says:

    This sounds like one I’d like – a good mystery with interesting investigative characters. I just checked and my library doesn’t have it (hopefully that’s a “yet”). Adding it to my list of books to check on at a later date.


  5. EastEndLass says:

    sounds like a great read – and another to put on my ever-growing TBR list!


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