Trouble, by Katja Ivar – book review

Trouble, the latest Hella Mauzer thriller by Katja Ivar, covers a lot of ground but it does so lightly. I was tempted by this title because of its setting in post World War II Finland, about which I knew very little. Ivar paints a picture of a nation that can’t quite escape its relationship both in the recent past with Nazi Germany and now with the Soviet Union. Some citizens stumble towards modernity, many just want to forge a new future – but the crimes of the recent past can’t be brushed under the carpet and when Stalin’s control over the USSR comes to an end, decisions made by the Krushchev regime have far-reaching consequences.

Front cover of Trouble by Katja Ivar
Trouble by Katja Ivar published in the UK by Bitter Lemon Press on 19 January 2023. Source: review copy

Hella Mauzer is a fairly fearless protagonist and we warm to her and want the truth about her family’s WWII murder to be uncovered. Ivar is very generous at explaining Mauzer’s thought processes and it’s easy to keep up with what’s going on. That’s helped by a tight list of characters, some of which are carried on from previous Mauzer adventures (but it’s OK if like me this is your first interaction with the series). The ending jars a bit if considering the title as a standalone though it makes perfect sense for a series.

There’s a huge amount of atmosphere and we get a feel for the light and dust of midsummer. We read about the trams and I loved in particular the scene in the iconic Helsinki Central station in which Mauzer tries to meet a contact.

Don’t come to this novel expecting to learn about the Holocaust or Stalin’s Gulag camps, even though both play a huge part in one of the two linked plots. I wonder at times whether Ivar has earned enough to do this and whether there is a responsibility for her to explain or describe more. Eventually I come to the conclusion that the novel succeeds precisely because it places we readers in a setting, with believable characters, and invites us to do much of the work. In 1953 Helsinki, people were muddling through, Hella Mauzer included. Ivar’s triumph is in making us want to watch them and consider what we might have done in similar circumstances.

Thanks to Bitter Lemon Press for the review copy and to Anne Cater for the invitation to kick off the blog tour, which starts today.

Blog tour poster for Trouble

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