By J. N. Duncan
As the head of the crime news unit for Channel Three News in Finland, Jarkko Sipila has a unique perspective on the lives of those who work to fight crime, and offers this in his realistic procedural series, Helsinki Homicide. DARLING is now the fifth of his Finnish crime series to be published in English. So, let’s get to finding out more about Finnish crime.
Can you give us a quick sentence or two about what your new Helsinki Homicide story, DARLING, is about?
This is a ruggedly realistic, police procedural story about the murder of a twenty-six-year old, slightly mentally handicapped woman in her apartment in Northern Helsinki.
This is the fifth English Helsinki Homicide book to reach the U.S. While I understand the stories are stand-alone books, there is obviously some ongoing character stories and development that occurs. Can you tell us a little about that?
The main characters are the same in all the books. Detective Lieutenant Kari Takamaki is the leading character. He’s a work-oriented family man. The other two main characters are Anna Joutsamo, a single woman in her late 30s, who usually truly leads the investigation and an undercover cop, Suhonen, who really feels at home with thugs and bikers.
I try to describe the work of real policemen, so their private lives have never really been the main focus in the stories.
Interestingly in the Finnish tv-series on the books, Joutsamo and Suhonen had a relationship, although I’ve never written that into the stories.
Being (or having been) involved in reporting crime news in Finland, what do you feel this background brings to your crime writing? What sort of edge do you feel this gives you in developing your stories?
If I wasn’t a crime journalist, I would’ve never written crime novels. Following the real stories really helps with the realism and making the fiction believable. One of the main ideas in writing these Helsinki Homicide stories is that they are fiction, but could really happen.
Your main character, Kari Takamaki, seems a pretty straightforward, hard-nosed guy. You won’t find him drowning his crime-fighting issues in the local pub. What makes him tick? What are his greatest strengths and weaknesses?
Due to my other job as a crime journalist I meet these cops daily and have a pretty good idea on how they think and how they see the society. They want to get the bad guys behind bars and are willing to do almost anything to achieve it. This is a strength, but also becomes a weakness at times.
The main focus in the stories is in the tension and solving crimes. It isn’t really that much about making the policemen or -women heroes, but describing them realistically. The same goes for the criminals.
What is it about Finnish crime writers that you love so much, that makes it different than what you typically find on the bestseller shelves in the U.S.?
Maybe one difference is in the storylines. We don’t need excessively violent criminals or serial killers in the novels. To be honest there really hasn’t been too many—a couple yes—serial killers in Finland. The crimes are in a way “smaller,” but hopefully this way they also get “closer” to the reader.
Is there a Finnish crime writer you have any notable admiration/envy for, that makes you say, “Man, I really wish I’d written that.”?
There are of course several. Jari Tervo’s AMONG THE SAINTS is one. It begins with a death of a Lapland hoodlum. It launches a series of events recounted in the first person by thirty-five different people touched by this murder.
Are there any U.S. crime writers that you think would be right at home on the Finnish crime-writing scene? If so, why?
I think Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct stories might be. Police procedurals are very universal stories as policemen and -women, at least the honest ones, are pretty similar persons all around the world.
You have said that you take an “engineering” approach to developing your stories. Can you explain this a bit more for us?
It only means that I plan the stories before writing them. It started a long time ago when I messed up one story pretty bad and had to rewrite it. I decided that it’s better to plan and write rather than write and rewrite.
It is much more fun planning and writing the novels than editing and rewriting them, which of course has to be also done.
If Detective Takamaki could team up with any U.S. crime-fighting hero, who would he chose?
I think he might feel quite home with the Criminal Minds TV series detectives. But some of their most violent cases might make Takamäki think that this can’t be real.
History is full of notorious villains. If Detective Takamaki had a villainous nemesis from any period in history, who would it be?
Interesting question! Maybe the Corleones from The Godfather would have been such, with all of the violence and corruption.
Crime-fighting heroes don’t always tend to do everything in the manner in which they’d ideally want to. What is Detective Takamaki’s biggest regret over the history of his career?
Probably the one and only time he has fired his gun.
When Takamaki reaches retirement, what is his dreamed for place/situation for retiring?
I don’t think he’s really dreaming of a retiring to a quiet cottage life. Maybe he’ll move to Spain as many Finnish policemen in real life have done.
As a bookstore employee, a customer walks up to you with DARLING in hand. What do you say to them to convince them that the story is worth reading?
“Have you ever read a Finnish crime novel? No, You should try. The book has a good, realistic storyline, not too violent. If you like police procedurals, You’ll love this… Yes, there really is crime in Finland.”
Jarkko Sipila is a Finnish journalist and author of the Helsinki Homicide-series. He has written 19 crime novels since 1996. In the signature police procedural-series, his protagonist is Lieutenant Detective Kari Takamaki at the Helsinki Police Violent Crimes Unit.
By 2014 Sipila has published fourteen Takamaki-novels in Finnish. Five have been translated into English in the Helsinki Homicide -series. Also, two of his books are available in German and so far one in Italian. Jarkko Sipila has worked as a crime reporter since 1991 and is now is the head of Crime News unit at the Finnish Channel 3 TV News.
To learn more about Jarkko, please visit his website.