Like watching foreign films, experiencing books from other countries – even in translation – exposes readers to different sensibilities which may be prevalent in those regions. For those who expect novels to follow a set trajectory, this can be challenging at times. Max Seeck’s The Witch Hunter – set in Helsinki, Finland – is part of the Nordic crime tradition, but forges its own unique path while telling a compelling story.
The Witch Hunter, like most crime novels, starts with a murder. In this case it is the death of Maria, the wife of celebrated novelist Roger Koponen. Roger has traveled to a book lecture, leaving his wife alone in their home. Unfortunately, this made her an easy target. Once the police become involved, it quickly becomes clear that this crime is related to Koponen’s most successful work, The Witch Hunter trilogy. The massive success of this book series makes the knowledge of them almost ubiquitous, so that everyone in Finland and maybe the world is familiar with its plotline. Now that they know this current murder echoes one that appears in the first novel, authorities immediately begin to suspect that their killer is using the trilogy as a model for his crimes – and that can only mean that more deaths are imminent.
On its most basic level, The Witch Hunter is a police procedural. As such, Max Seeck allows each of the members of the police force to tell part of the story. With each individual investigating a different aspect of the crime, readers gain a fuller picture of the puzzle before them. Jessica Niemi is the lead investigator on the case and the character that readers learn the most about. Interspersed with the current case, Max Seeck gives readers a glimpse into Jessica’s past – a troubled one that influences her in ways that even she may not yet understand.
Since the occult plays a vital role in the plot of The Witch Hunter (both the fictional trilogy in the novel and the novel itself), it is no surprise that there is an underlining tone of uneasiness to all the action. Readers, just like the characters, must determine what is real as the oddity factor continues to escalate. There are definitely a few shocking and disturbing scenes that will stick with readers for a long time, more because of their inherent creepiness than any outright gratuitously graphic violence. The complex case takes many detours, some of them extremely surprising, on its way to the nail-biting conclusion.
The writing here is sublime; not something that is typical of the thriller genre and certainly unusual with a book in translation. There is none of the clunkiness that often accompanies books when they appear in languages other than their native tongue. Kristian London should be commended for that, but one gets the sense that the original also had this lofty feel that elevates it above the standard fare.
Now, back to the unique sensibilities. The Witch Hunter is a not a book that is going to give up all its secrets easily. Readers who like everything to be neatly tied into a bow at the end might want to look elsewhere. Answers are given, especially as it relates to the crime(s), but those answers lead to many more questions that are left to the reader to sort through. Max Seeck tackles many complex topics and themes in The Witch Hunter – everything from toxic masculinity to mental health concerns, along with feelings of mortality, relationship dynamics, and of course theories of witchcraft. This is a storyline that will keep you on the edge of your seat while reading it, but it will also lead to deeper contemplation of bigger issues during the times when the book is set aside.
Disclaimer: An e-galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No promotion was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.