Trouble by Katja Ivar Review

Trouble by Katja Ivar, a wonderfully captivating story of secrets and intrigue set in Helsinki in 1953, during the early years of the Cold War. Read my full review.

Trouble Synopsis

Detective Hella Mauzer #3

Set in Finland, early summer 1953. Hella Mauzer the first-ever woman Inspector in the Helsinki Homicide Unit has been fired and is now a reluctant private investigator

Hella has been asked by the police to do a background check on Johannes Heikkinen, a senior member of the Finnish secret services. Heikkinen has a complicated past: a child dead just weeks after birth and a wife who died in the fire that destroyed their house a few years later. Background checks are not exactly the type of job Hella was hoping for, but she accepts it on the condition that she is given access to the files concerning the roadside death of her father in 1942. Colonel Mauzer, his wife and other family members were killed by a truck in a hit and run incident. An accident, file closed, they say. But not for Hella, whose unwelcome investigation leads to some who would prefer to see her stopped dead in her tracks.

Bitter Lemon Press, 2023

Genre(s) Mystery & Detective, Historical Crime Fiction

Katja Ivar | Pub Date Feb 21, 2023 | ISBN 9781913394776 | 220 pages

Book Review

Historical crime fiction isn’t a favorite genre, and I rarely read any. So, after learning from the synopsis that Trouble is set in 1953, I ordinarily might have taken a miss. But since a publisher I admire offered the book, and I’ve never received a bad book from them, I chose to read it. And I’m so glad I did. It’s a marvelous, tightly plotted and absorbing mystery tale. 

It’s early summer in 1953 in Helsinki, Finland, and the world grapples with the early years of the Cold War (1945–1990). Former Helsinki homicide unit inspector Hella Mauzer is finding her feet as a private investigator. When her former boss hires Mauzer to do a routine background check on a man being considered to head the department’s homicide unit, she reluctantly agrees, hoping to get something in return. Hella wants access to the files concerning the hit-and-run incident that killed her entire family, father, mother, sister, and nephew, when she was eighteen years old. The assignment not only forces Hella to face the ghosts of her painful past, but sets her on a collision course with a dangerous present and uncertain future. 

When Hella investigates Johannes Heikkinen, a member of the Finnish secret services, she gets nothing but glowing reports about his character and reputation from acquaintances, neighbors, and relatives. But something feels off when she learns Heikkinen had a child who died just weeks after birth and that his wife died in a house fire two years later. The authorities ruled the death of the wife accidental. But after talking with the pathologist who did the autopsy, Hella suspects murder. The deeper Hella digs into Heikkinen’s background, the more certain she becomes the man may have pulled off the perfect crime and she will never prove he murdered his wife. Meanwhile, probing the deaths of her family members, Hella uncovers information that points her toward the person responsible and that person intends to stop her inquiries even if it means stopping Hella dead in her tracks, literally. She’ll need to keep her gun at the ready, because Hella is facing something even more ominous than her painful memories. 

I adored our leading lady, Hella Mauzer, who is realistic and likeable. Ivar peppers her engaging prose with vivid descriptions of place and evocative character-building expressions and weaves stirring social commentary into Hella’s inner dialogue. The resourceful and gutsy Hella walks toward danger, following new avenues of investigation into puzzling mysteries and finds answers aplenty to long buried secrets about her painful past. Even when the forthright expression of her open-minded opinions leads her into perilous situations, Hella perseveres in seeking justice. 

I unreservedly recommend this book to crime fiction fans who enjoy feisty, strong, and intelligent female leads. For those like me, who may feel indifferent about reading historical crime fiction, this book may change your mind. It certainly changed mine. It’s a solid detective mystery that seems timeless, offering two mysteries for the price of one that Ivar pulls together seamlessly by the novel’s end. 

I received an advance copy of the book from the publisher for review purposes.

Book rating: ★★★★★

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