Thursday, 6 April 2017
The Doll's Criminal Reading: Serbia via Finland - Kati Hiekkapelto's "The Exiled"
The Exiled by Kati Hiekkapelto
Finnish police detective Anna has returned to her home village in Serbia for a summer holiday. It's a community she left as a child when her mother emigrated to Finland after the death of Anna's policeman father during the Yugoslav wars.
Basking in the summer heat and waiting for the village celebrations that accompany the annual bloom of mayflies over the river, Anna is caught up in a crime on the first night of her stay when her bag is snatched in the park. The thief's body is found on the river bank the following day. His death is pronounced an accidental drowning but Anna's detective instincts kick in. She becomes obsessed with the scratchiness of the local police investigation and pathologist's findings. And no one seems to know or care what happened to the young Roma girl who was with the thief that night in the park.
Anna's daily life grows increasingly uncomfortable; unable to feel at home, paraded around her father's contemporaries and pressured by her mother to conform to local manners and etiquette. Whilst the village waits for the ephemeral mayflies, Anna is drawn deeper into investigating the thief's death. It is an obsession which also draws her into the past and just as deeply into the mystery of her own father's death.
During my crime-reading travel I have never visited this part of Europe - a Hungarian region of Northern Serbia close to the border of Hungary itself. Its flat plains of wheat and sunflowers, dotted with ancient, neglected farmhouses, parches in the summer heat. In the book it is a region whose borders and way of life has been disrupted by the Balkan wars and now modern conflicts are made evident in the makeshift camps of homeless refugees in the town parks and the growth of nationalism marked by young skinheads prowling the edges of these temporary communities. This is an enthralling thriller which reads well in David Hackston's translation and keeps its realised characters and pace going until the end. I shall be looking forward to reading more of prickly Anna Fekete.