SnowAngelsPBReviewed by Caleb Shadis

James Thompson’s Snow Angels is a gripping detective story that takes place in a small village in rural Finland during the darkest part of the year (two weeks when the sun never crosses the horizon). We meet Inspector Vaara and his ex-wife Kate in a restaurant at the Levi Center, Finland’s largest ski resort. Kate is the manager of the whole complex and is firing an employee for stealing liquor from the bar. Vaara is close by in case the employee becomes violent. Shortly after the incident, Vaara receives a phone call informing him of a brutal murder of a local movie star. The murder victim happens to be a Somali refugee and a racial murder in a predominantly homogeneous society is sure to create a media storm.
Once Vaara gets to the scene and realizes what was done to the poor woman, he is convinced that the murder was racially motivated, and quite possibly the work of a serial killer. What makes matters worse is that the first and most likely suspect in the case turns out to be the man who stole Vaara’s ex-wife. The media and his ex-wife begin to suggest that Vaara has framed the man just to get even. Things continue to get more bizarre and twisted as the story goes on, and the Inspector has to hold on and hope that he still has a job when all is said and done.
Snow Angels might fit better in noir than traditional mystery, since the whole novel is very dark. Authors like Dan Brown and James Patterson always have a certain upbeat vibe in the background while dealing with bad things. This upbeat vibe is largely absent from Thompson’s book which sets it apart from many other murder mysteries.
One aspect of Snow Angels which stuck out as a negative was the repeated emphasis on the differences between Finnish and American laws, as pointed out by Inspector Vaara. While I enjoyed the information and found it extremely helpful, the presentation seemed a little off. Why would a Finnish cop feel the need to compare his country’s laws with those of the U.S. so frequently? His comparisons were explained in part by his marrying a U.S. citizen, but they seemed overdone nevertheless.
While the story keeps things moving, and Vaara is kept so busy he barely has time to sleep, Snow Angels is unlike a Dan Brown novel where constant action is meant to distract the reader from obvious plot holes. James Thompson’s novel was well written, the plot held together fairly well and it certainly kept my attention from beginning to end. Thompson did a great job keeping things realistic and I certainly plan to read his future work.

Caleb is a software engineer and amature woodworker living in southern Minnesota. He has more hobbies than he has time or money for, and enjoys his quiet time reading.<

Interview with James Thompson

When did you seriously consider writing as an occupation?
James: I started getting dreamy ideas about it a long time ago, but the odds of making a living writing thrillers and crime novels is about a million to one. I thought of it more as a vocation than occupation. I suppose I still do.

However, I began to consider it an occupation when it became one, meaning that I made my living at it. The exact moment came in 2008, at my Finnish publisher’s summer home. After sauna, we discussed contracting on a third book before my first had even been published. To my knowledge, that had never happened before in Finland, and hasn’t again since. My publisher told me that in his opinion, I was the best thriller writer in Finland and that he didn’t want me to do anything but write for a living from that point forward. He gave me, so I’m told, the biggest advance for a novel—for an unpublished writer—in Finnish publishing history.

What inspired you to write a murder mystery set in Finland?
James: Write what you know. Good advice for any writer.

Did you intend for the book to be as ‘dark’ as it was or did the setting contribute to it?
James: I just tried to write the truth of this particular story. I didn’t realize it was so dark until people told me so. I belong to a writers’ group. A member read it and asked me how I could stand to mentally live in such a dark world long enough to write a book about it. I remember thinking the same thing when I read James Ellroy’s American Tabloid. Then later, writing experience taught me that whatever world you live in becomes normal after awhile. In fact, I’ve written a lot tougher stuff.

How soon will Inspector Vaara be back? Will his stories take place once a year during the dark time or alternate between the dark around Christmas and the Light in midsummer?
James: The second novel in the series, Dead of Winter, will be published in the U.S. in January 2011. I’m finishing it now and it’s set in winter. I haven’t made up my mind about which book or when, but I’m sure at some point an Inspector Vaara novel will be set in summer.

How long did it take to get your first book into print?
James: My first book hasn’t been published. From the time I started writing fiction until one of my novels was published—fourteen years.

Who is your favorite author?
James: Hard to pick, but if I have to choose: Graham Greene.

What are your three favorite books?
James: My aforementioned unpublished first novel, The Demiurge. It has serious flaws, but a soft spot in my heart. The Complete Works of Shakespeare and The End of the Affair by Graham Greene.