Evil Things by Katja Ivar – feminism in 1952 amid a Cold War

This can be seen as a deeply unsettling book, a book where everything – including the weather – is conspiring against the main character. This is a novel set in 1952, when the Cold War is happening, and countries such as Finland are on the front line. The place is Lapland, but not a place of fluffy snow and good nature, but a harsh climate which means that transport is closed down for a significant part of the year. People must survive, somehow, and it is into this unfriendly and unforgiving place that Hella Mauzer, a young woman with a mysterious past, feels compelled to go and investigate a possible crime. She is deeply unpopular, incredibly frustrated, and the first real woman police detective to work in the country in homicide. She has a powerful sense of grievance, of sadness, and yet finds the determination to try and solve the unsolvable. Said to be the first in a series, this is a tough read, yet maintains its intelligent humanity though out. A deeply satisfying book, I was glad to read a copy of this strongly written novel and contribute a review.

Hella is a young woman who notices things, feels deep emotions, and reacts strongly to people. The second trait has been seized on as an excuse to move her to a dead end job with a male boss who she silently distains and despairs of as a largely useless bureaucrat. This is 1952, when feminism was unheard of, and women could be, and were, dismissed as merely working until they married. As such, Hella’s stubborn refusal to make herself attractive and amicable is pointedly commented on. She realises much about herself; her lack of friends, her inability to form proper friendships let alone relationships, and her overthinking of the situations she has been challenged by in her recent past. When she hears that a missing old man has been reported, she insists on visiting a village cut off for months from the rest of the country. As she arrives she discovers much to upset her expectations, including a priest’s wife who is seemingly perfectly devoted, but who knows more than anyone knows. Food and home comforts are described even as Hella consciously tries to reject them, yet a boy who soon becomes central to the investigation seems to occupy more of her thoughts. A stunning discovery upsets all the theories, and it is left to Hella to use every skill, emotion and desperate effort to find the truth and act on it.

I can honest say that I learnt a lot from this novel, not previously having been a fan of “Scandi Noir” detective stories. There is an incredible atmosphere in this novel, as the weather sets in and the situation becomes more desperate. The village is on the edge of Soviet Russia, and the incipient danger that this faceless threat forms lives throughout the novel. Hella is her own worst enemy in many ways, yet the reader’s sympathy is with this woman who is by her own admission is “angular”. There are brutal elements to this book, and scenes which could shock, but it is all controlled. There is little gentleness in this book, but the concern for children does run throughout  and basic human decency is always present. I can recommend this book to anyone interested in crime beyond Britain and the current time, and fascinated by the beginning of positive feminism. It achieves a contemporary feel for today, and I will be keen to see what happens with Heela Mauzer in the future.

As well as this book, I have also had the experience of seeing the film “The Favourite”. It is such a powerful film, with incredible costumes, setting and acting. It is not an easy watch in some ways, but it is a powerful testament to the power of women at a time when they were perhaps not accorded much wit and intelligence. Olivia Coleman’s character is so much more significant than she first appears, and her physical acting is phenomenal. Well worth seeing, but perhaps not so easy to understand…