Friday, March 8, 2013

The Enduring Chill: Jan Costin Wagner's ICEMOON

German writer Jan Costin Wagner's novel Das Schwiegen was made into a movie in 2010 (The Silence, German); recently a trailer for the movie popped up, so evidently it's now in release in the States. Made curious by the film, a dark mystery about a missing girl, I sought out Wagner's work at the library and found Icemoon.

This is one of those mystery novels that makes me think I could write mystery novels . . . as long as there's no mystery. Very little actual detective work is done by the Finnish police detective who connects two murders; in fact, he works largely by hunch, often drifting from his work due to his despondency over the death of his young wife. Readers know who the killer is from the outset. There's some mystery as to his motives, but that's not a puzzle that leads to him being caught. If you're looking, then, for a novel of detection, don't look here. This did frustrate me initially, but then I chose to judge the book for what it aimed to be rather than what I'd expected.

The true mystery in this novel is death. Detective Kimmo Joentaa is with his wife when she dies, and he obsesses over both her memory and her last moments. He gets close to death, but can't truly enter the experience. This motif connects him to the killer as well as to other characters. Death is unfathomable and irreversible, and so it frustrates both the intellect and the intentions of every character—even the murderer.

There's much about the novel that reminds me of Swedish writer John Ajvide Lindqvist's vampire novel, Let the Right One In. It's the same cold landscape (though here the daylight is long, as it's summer), the same separation of narrative that tends to isolate the characters, the same tendency to create character and plot threads that feel (and perhaps are) digressive, and even, at one point, the same concrete apartment building, backed by trees and facing a playground. 

The book flies by: The language is spare, the syntax straightforward, the details compressed. Also, it's not as long as it appears, relying on one-sentence paragraphs (a standard suspense-story form) to keep the tale artificially clicking along. 

The book is involving, and its characters linger. The mysteries at the heart of it, though, remained unsolved.

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