Loss and the infinite ways we attempt to come to terms with it permeate this absorbing psychological mystery, Wagner's third novel and the first available in English translation, set in the Finnish town of Turku. A week after his wife dies of Hodgkin's disease, Det. Kimmo Joentaa feels compelled to return to work to investigate the murder of a young woman smothered in her own bed while her husband was away. Only a valueless painting appears to have been stolen. A second murder, just as puzzling, occurs in a youth hostel where a young man is killed while others slept all around him. Joentaa is sure the murders are connected and even feels inexplicably close to the killer. Though Wagner sometimes shifts awkwardly to the troubled killer's point of view, the despairing Kimmo Joentaa and the large cast of supporting characters are well drawn. This skillful mystery will have readers hoping Wagner's previous novels will soon be available in English. (May)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Ice Moon (Kimmo Joentaa Series #1)by Jan Costin Wagner, John Brownjohn
Only a week after losing his wife, a distraught Detective Kimmo Joentaa returns to work to join a murder inquiry. It is the case of a woman smothered in her sleep--a curiously tranquil death, it seems, and one with no motive--and Kimmo becomes obsessed. The only clues are a half-empty bottle of red wine, two glasses, and a missing painting, a blurred landscape of no value. When a young man is found murdered in bed the next day in a hostel room with seven people asleep around him, Kimmo realizes a serial killer must be at work.
As he struggles with the memory of his wife’s early death, Kimmo investigates the murders and tries to understand the mind of the perpetrator, who appears to be quiet, self-effacing, and affable--why then the urge to destroy? Set in Finland during the unnervingly long days of late summer near the top of the world, Ice Moon is an unsettling, poignant mystery.
As in a Chekhov drama, first novelist Wagner's characters are greatly concerned with memory and landscape, in this case winter in Finland. Kimmo Joentaa, a young Finnish detective who is deeply troubled by the recent death of his wife, hopes that trying to solve a murder will shake him out of his lethargy. A sleeping young wife is smothered by a pillow in her bed with no sign of forced entry and only an amateur painting missing. Later, a Swedish man meets a simlar fate in the midst of several other people asleep in a hostel. By mid-book, we know the killer's identity and something of his mental state, even as there is a third death. Not a typical police procedural, this is a study of the hunter and the hunted, each tormented by memory and dreams and relying on intuition more than logic. Wagner has a Finnish wife but writes in German. This is his first book to be translated into English, and the translator captures the mood and inner dialogs very well. Ranking well in the wave of recent Scandinavian crime fiction to hit these shores, this is recommended for most mystery collections.
"From the remarkable Jan Costin Wagner . . . a lyrical, haunting and disturbing psychological thriller . . . a strange and magical book."THE TIMES (London)
"Rarely has a murder mystery come so close to the riddle of death. Wagner has what it takes."DIE ZEIT (Germany)
Read an Excerpt
By Wagner, Jan Costin
HarcourtCopyright © 2007 Wagner, Jan Costin
All right reserved.
Kimmo Joentaa was alone with her when she went to sleep.
He sat beside her bed in the darkened room, held her hand, and tried to feel her pulse. When he lost it—when he also ceased to hear her breathing softly in and out—he held his own breath and bent over her without moving, so as to regain contact. He relaxed, slumping a little in his chair, when his fingers once more detected the faint throbbing beneath her skin.
He kept looking at the clock because he thought it was over. Without wondering why, he had resolved to note the time of her death. The idea had occurred to him some days ago, while he was sitting on the bench outside her room, staring at the snow-white door beyond which she lay. Rintanen, the physician in charge, had taken him aside before going in to see her, armed with some powerful medication and an encouraging smile, and told him it could be over very soon. Any time now.
He no longer left her. He took his meals beside her bed and spent the nights in a restless doze from which he awoke with a start every minute, afraid of not being with her during the final seconds of her life.
His sleep was an entanglement of gray dreams.
In the days preceding her death she began to tell stories he didn’t understand. She told him about images she could see, about a red horse she was riding, and about her travels in the realms of her imagination. Speaking more to herself than to him, she gazed through his eyes into nothingness. Once she asked who he was and what she should call him. “Kimmo,” he said, and her lips mouthed the name.
He stroked her hand, listened to her, smiled whenever she smiled, and forbade himself to weep in her presence. Once or twice she asked if he could see her riding the red horse, and he nodded.
In response to his inquiry, Rintanen had explained that these hallucinations were side effects of the medication.
She was in no pain, he said.
Her death occurred at night, three days after Rintanen told him her condition had worsened. The room was dark. He could feel her hand and sense rather than see her eyes and lips. On the point of dozing off, he was jolted awake by a sudden fear that the interval between her breaths would never end. He did what he had often done: held his own breath, bent over her, and remained quite still. He waited for her faint, shallow breathing, for the throb of her feeble pulse against his fingers, but this time there was nothing.
He began to stroke her arm, bending down still further until his cheek brushed her lips. Slowly, he caressed her chill face and rested his head on her lap. Then he sat up and looked at the clock.
It was fourteen minutes past three, and she had gone to sleep.
The thought of the moment of her death and of the minutes thereafter had often exercised his mind and haunted him, and he had striven to shake it off. Half consciously, he had believed, hoped, that her final breath would bring his own life to a standstill. He had sometimes envisioned that he would weep as he had never wept before. That was a comforting thought, for in his mind’s eye the tears had overlaid his grief and might even have slowly consumed it.
Now that the moment had come he gave no thought to his preconceived ideas of how it would be. He stroked her hand without being aware of it. His life hadn’t come to a standstill and he wasn’t weeping. His eyes, his mouth, his lips—all were dry. Later, he couldn’t recall having thought of anything at all during the minutes that elapsed before the night nurse came in and he told her that Sanna was dead.
The night nurse turned on the light, went over to Sanna’s bed, felt her pulse, and gave him a practiced look of commiseration. He evaded it and saw Sanna, whose face he had earlier sensed in the darkness, glaringly illuminated.
For a moment he thought she was only sleeping.
The nurse went out without speaking to him and returned a few minutes later with Rintanen, whose sympathy seemed genuine. It was Rintanen who had enabled him, in defiance of hospital regulations, to remain with Sanna day and night. He made a mental note to thank him sometime.
Rintanen, too, verified what had already been ascertained. He gave an almost imperceptible nod and stood there for a moment, then gently brushed Sanna’s shoulder with his fingertips—a gesture that lodged in Joentaa’s memory.
“She really has gone to sleep,” he said, and Joentaa knew what he meant. Her face betrayed no pain.
“Would you like to stay with her for a while?” Rintanen asked. Joentaa nodded, although he wasn’t sure he wanted to. He tried to analyze his thoughts while the doctor went out into the corridor with the night nurse. He felt he was skating on thin ice. Rintanen and the night nurse were talking in the corridor. He couldn’t catch what they said, but he knew it was about Sanna and what was to be done with her. With her dead body.
Sanna doesn’t belong to me anymore, he thought.
Looking at her, he felt he could easily have withstood the gaze of her closed eyes. He tried to absorb the fact that she would never look at him again, that he was losing her altogether. He tried to breathe in the lines of her face. After a while, when he sensed that it was no use, he turned away.
His relief at feeling nothing gave way to a fear of being unable to weep, a vague fear that grief would erode him from within before he knew it.
Abruptly, on impulse, he stood up. He lifted her body and clasped it to him, kissed her lips, her neck, gently bit her throat, her shoulders. Then he laid her down and covered her over.
He turned out the light, left the room without looking back, and strode swiftly along the corridor. Once in the car he started to think. He sensed that something lay ahead and knew it would be something beyond his ken. He dreaded it, but was waiting for it, yearning for it. He wanted to be at home when it burst upon him.
He drove in the direction of Angelniemi, parked in the driveway, and walked down to the lake that glittered among the dark trees. The rickety dock gave under his weight, and he felt as if he were being dragged down into the black water.
He had planned to install a new dock in the summer, but she’d said she liked everything the way it was. He recalled her words and the warmth in her voice. She had been sitting where he was standing now. He saw again her smile, her pale face, and felt the fear that had taken his breath away when he looked at her.
He had reached his destination, he knew. Removing his shoes, he immersed his feet in the water. He inhaled the cool breeze and noted with relief that the chill of the water was spreading upward from his legs. He waited for the freezing sensation to permeate his body. Then he sank down, lay flat on his back, and closed his eyes. He saw her astride a red horse with her long, fair hair streaming out behind. He waited for the horse to break into a gallop, waited for her to laugh and shout something to him, waited until she rode swiftly toward him, happy, calling out . . . Then, at last, he stretched out his arms to her and embraced the pain, the deep, stabbing pain, that would never leave him again.
The piano tuner waited until he felt that all was quiet, then struck a note and inhaled the harsh, discordant sound. Shutting his eyes, he saw it stand out bright yellow against the black background of his thoughts. A yellow circle, a dazzling full moon that dwindled and disappeared as the note receded into the womb of silence.
He opened his eyes and looked up into the face of Mrs. Ojaranta, who had brought him a coffee and asked if he was getting on all right. He nodded and did his best to smile.
Floating in the cup she handed him was a dazzling yellow moon.
He hoped that Mrs. Ojaranta would leave him alone, but she sat down and started talking. She asked what he thought of the piano, told him it was a quarter of a century old and inherited from her parents.
She had told him the same thing the day before.
He saw her words trickle slowly to the floor.
It was a good piano, he said, a very good one, and she nodded and smiled, content with his answer. She herself wasn’t musical, she said, but her sister played extremely well and would be pleased the next time she came to stay.
Copyright © Eichborn AG, 2003
English translation copyright © John Brownjohn, 2006
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be submitted online at www.harcourt.com/contact or mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.
Excerpted from Ice Moon by Wagner, Jan Costin Copyright © 2007 by Wagner, Jan Costin. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
JAN COSTIN WAGNER is a journalist and freelance writer. He divides his time between Germany and Finland, which is his wife’s home country.
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >