Put a Little Love in Your Heart
How many times have you heard that tired old phrase about never judging a book by its cover? When it comes to Petri Tamminen’s Crime Novel, a book that features a giant fingerprint and the word “Crime” in a rather large black font on its front, no one would blame you for thinking that what you’re about to read is a classic detective story. Heck, fingerprint aside, the title alone all but implies this. Don’t get me wrong, there is a police inspector in this one, and much of the surface plot does revolve around him tracking the whereabouts of an elusive felon, but there’s much, much more at work here then simply taking a quick glance at the cover would lead you to believe. Trust me friends, this one is anything but your standard game of cat and mouse.
Inspector Vehmas is a middle-aged widower who has been tasked with apprehending a most unconventional type of criminal. A man so dastardly that he doesn’t rape, murder, maim, injure, or harm any of his victims physically. Instead he messes with their heads, burrows deep inside their brains to uncover their deepest insecurities, and then uses the very things they fear as ammunition to make them second guess themselves, make them break mentally, make them cower from the rest of the world with deep feelings of disgrace and a shameful sense that they’re not good enough to belong.
He’s a man of many names, this vile villain: Ångström, the Hameenlinna Humilator, and the Malmi Mortifier to name a few, but are these bizarre stunts he executes against perfectly random strangers “crimes” in the most traditional sense of the word, or are they simply clever, yet ultimately harmless pranks designed to make people confront and deal with the worst aspects of themselves? And what exactly is Ångström’s motive in all this? Why does he so desperately want to humiliate people? What is he hoping to gain by doing so?
It’s the way in which Petri Tamminen delicately explores the answers to these questions, the way he peers into the darkest corners of our modern existence, examines society as a whole, and ponders the inherent futility of our fleeting existence that makes reading Crime Story such a compelling and beguiling experience. Throughout the course of the novel he moves effortlessly between moments of high tension, extreme absurdity, and quiet reflection without ever taking a single misstep.
Soon he was aware of himself and his age, of time’s inevitable march and his place within it. When you’re young, you buy trousers that will last you a lifetime: in middle age, melancholy strikes in the dressing room and you see the entire arc, the gradual wearing out of the trousers and their miserable end. In middle age, every single object and act and event starts to feel like a theoretical example of itself.
As the investigation into Ångström’s whereabouts continues through the bleak Finnish winter, Vehmas questions the need for an endless 24-hour news cycle designed to keep us in constant fear for our lives: “The world is exactly the way your experience tells you it is—no safer, but no more dangerous, either.” He explores the way in which the digital age has given us more unrestricted access to information then ever before, yet has left us feeling more isolated and alone as a result: “He felt like he was alone in the world. He didn’t feel lonely, though, more like an adult.” He wonders how we’ve arrived at a point where the humiliation of others has transformed into a money making form of entertainment targeted at the apathetic masses: “There was some Big Brother type of show on it now, young people were competing to see who could fit the biggest vegetable into their rectums.”
And what does his journey through this littered landscape of fractured lives ultimately teach us?
That the endless cacophony of noise that we ingest on a daily basis doesn’t matter. We shouldn’t let the outside world wear us down and make us feel insignificant. We should not be our own worst enemy. We should each instead be our own best friend. The closer Vehmas gets the apprehending the elusive Ångström, the more he’s forced to deal with his own anxieties about past failures, and navigating through these haunting experiences will lead him to a startling epiphany: you don’t fight hate with hate, you kill it with kindness…or at least you attempt to.
Crime Story starts off exploring the darker side of human nature, but ultimately ends as a celebration of life. It offers a positive reminder that even though there’s some evil out there, there’s also just as much beauty, and the world isn’t nearly as terrible a place as others want you to believe it is. Oh, and it’s got a pretty interesting detective and one heck of a cunning criminal thrown in there too. You know, if you’re into that sort of thing. After all, it is a crime novel.
Further reflections: As an American citizen I find that there’s more I want to discuss about this novel. Tamminen’s depictions of the contrasts between life in Finland and Sweden reminded me a lot of the comparisons that are continually made between the quality of life in the United States and that of our northern neighbors in Canada. In addition, Vehmas’s obsession to rid the world of Ångström, a character meant to represent our inner evils, led to me think heavily about the war on terror and the crazy-ass belief some hold that combating spectacular acts of violence with even more violence will somehow bring about an end to extremist ideologies.