Book reviews: The Defenceless | The Petrol Scented Spring

Author Ajay Close. Picture: Allan MilliganAuthor Ajay Close. Picture: Allan Milligan
Author Ajay Close. Picture: Allan Milligan
Kati Hiekkapelto’s Scandinavian noir The Defenceless and Ajay Close’s The Petrol Scented Spring are are put under the microscope. By Lizzie Lewis

The Defenceless

By Kati Hiekkapelto

Orenda Books, £8.99

This is the second novel in Kati Hiekkapelto’s series about Finnish detective Anna Fekete, following her successful first submission to the Scandi noir genre, The Hummingbird, but it stands alone for those who are unfamiliar with her work.

Hiekkapelto, who is also a punk singer and performance artist, has worked as a special education teacher for immigrant pupils in her native Finland, and the theme of immigration is at the heart of this story. Anna is herself an immigrant, born in the former Yugoslavia but now living in a small town in northern Finland.

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In The Defenceless, she must try to solve the murders of two elderly residents of the same building, as well as handling the case of a young Pakistani boy, an illegal immigrant fighting to stay in the country. His feelings contrast with those of Anna, who is suffering from homesickness and beginning to tire of the isolation from her family.

Chilling and exciting, Hiekkapelto has created a story which, in tackling problems faced by minorities in modern Finland, challenges readers to look to their own prejudices.

The large number of characters introduced can be frustrating to the reader attempting to come up with their own theories about whodunnit, but those paying close attention are rewarded with a revealing and disturbing portrait of modern Finland.

The Petrol Scented Spring

By Ajay Close

Sandstone, £8.99

Set in the first half of the 20th century, this latest book from novelist and playwright Ajay Close deals with the fight for women’s rights, class mobility and suppressed sexuality.

While the harrowing descriptions of force-feeding suffragettes in prison may seem to come from another 
age, some of the issues Close confronts feel surprisingly contemporary.

The plot follows a woman who, after 50 years trapped in a loveless marriage, is still searching for answers about a relationship her husband, a prison doctor, had with a hunger-striking suffragette.

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Close never lets you feel entirely comfortable reading the novel, due to the mutually abusive relationship described and the undercurrent of warped sexuality.

It is a thought-provoking and revealing read, rather than a satisfying one, but Close’s sophisticated writing is never less than engrossing.

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