Jarkko Sipila maintained a successful career as a crime reporter for Finland’s leading newspaper and television station before turning his fingers to the keyboard for fiction.
BEHIND CLOSED DOORS is the 15th in the Helsinki Homicide series, the sixth to be translated into English. As he watches his townhouse burn up in flames, Detective Lieutenant Kari Takamaki recalls an old saying: the most dangerous are those who plot their revenge in silence. As the game gets tougher for both the authorities and the criminals, Takamaki and his team are put on the defensive. But how do a Finnish gangster living in Bangkok and a raped woman in Helsinki fit into the picture?
In your short synopsis, you mention a rape trial and a bitter case of revenge— Detective Takamaki’s townhouse in flames. Can you give us another detail about BEHIND CLOSED DOORS, perhaps a clue about how these seemingly random events are linked?
Detective Anna Joutsamo is almost run over by a car on her evening run. A clue?
The main theme in BEHIND CLOSED DOORS is revenge.
Your novels have been labeled Nordic Noir. Do you agree with that designation and if so, what drew you to that style?
Definitely they can be labeled Nordic Noir. When I started the Helsinki Homicide series in Finnish in 2001 I wanted to write realistic crime novels. Some of the books that I had read at that time didn’t describe the police work or the criminals in the way that they really are.
I think my background in journalism influenced me a lot. Crime reporters also hear good stories that don’t make the news.
Unlike many of the divorced, troubled protagonists we often see with a darker story, your lead character, Detective Kari Takamaki, is married with children. While you’ve indicated the detective’s personal life isn’t a central part of the story, how do those elements shape both your character and his approach to the crimes?
I have to go again back to the real policemen in Finland. Of course there are broken marriages, alcoholism etc., but you don’t see multi-problemed persons. So my focus has always been on the crimes, investigation, and criminals. That is the world of Helsinki Homicide novels. I think they are much more interesting topics than the personal life of the protagonists. Detective Takamäki is a quite normal Finnish man.
Scandinavian countries have an image in the United States as comparatively crime-free. Is that a challenge in writing or translating your novels for a U.S. audience?
Well, I once compared Minnesota and Finland, and the crime rates seemed to be about the same. A lot of Finnish crime is related to alcohol, and Finland has traditionally had a high rate of violent crime. We have biker gangs, Estonian and Russian criminal organizations, and even one severe case of police crime where the head of the Helsinki Narcotic Police was charged on major hash smuggling. But the image of crime-free Scandinavia suits us just fine.
In your other novels, you’ve chosen motives and themes that seem “headline” inspired—political murders and terrorism, for example. In BEHIND CLOSED DOORS, you open with a courtroom scene where a rape victim is being “raped” again by the system. Do you intend to explore social issues in your stories or use them as a departure, as emotional leverage, especially with a polarizing issue such as sex crimes?
Prison sentences for sex crimes—well, almost all crimes except murder—are quite lenient in Finland. Around the time this novel was published in Finland 2012, it was debated in public a lot. Victims hardly ever want to take part in this discussion and the media can’t report what happens behind closed doors. This was one reason for the opening court room scene. Of course, it is also an important part of the story.
Between your journalism, television reporting, and writing 19 novels, you’ve seen numerous changes in the industry. What do you see as the most significant change?
The first major change was the introduction of mobile phones in early ’90s. The next one was even bigger, the internet. And the third is social media. Now in the fourth phase, these are converging together, but I think this is just a beginning.
Anything in your “crystal ball” for the future?
Journalism won’t die and people will still read books.
What’s the best advice—and harshest criticism—you’ve received as an author?
I think the best advice goes back to the ’90s. We were writing radio-plays at the time and I learned how to tell the story and advance the plot through dialogue. Good crime fiction book can at times slow down, but can’t stop.
Criticism? It usually relates to the characters. Some want more personal life stuff, but it a decision to focus on the crimes.
Ice Cold Crime, a specialty publisher for Finnish fiction, handles your U.S. translations. Six of the 15 novels in the Helsinki Homicide series have been translated. Do you plan to release more of them in the U.S.?
I hope so, but it depends of course on the publisher.
What’s next for you?
I’m getting the story line for Finnish Helsinki Homicide #16 together and planning to write it in January. But a lot is also happening in the “real crime world” that keeps me busy.
Jarkko Sipila is a Finnish journalist and author of the Helsinki Homicide-series. He has written 20 crime novels since 1996. In the signature police prosedural -series, his protagonist is Lieutenant Detective Kari Takamaki at the Helsinki Police Violent Crimes Unit.
Takamaki, unlike some Nordic fictional police characters is not a boozing wildcat, but the ultimate professional who directs his team to track down criminals in an organized fashion.
To learn more about Jarkko, please visit his website.