Cruel Is The Night by Karo Hämäläinen

January 8, 2018 | No comments


If you do not want spoilers, you should probably stop reading now.

On paper, this book has everything that I like in books.

It is written by an awardwinning Finnish author, and I’m constantly looking for new Finnish crime to read. The book is set in London, rather than in Finland, but after the Nordic countries, UK is one my favourite settings.

It has a locked-room murder mystery with lots of Agatha Christie references. One of the main characters even reads Murder on the Orient Express on the flight to London.

The general plot idea is great: four Finnish friends–Robert and Mikko, and their wives Elise and Veera–meet for dinner. Three cell phones ring, but the calls go unanswered because their recipients are all dead.

Unfortunately, that is where the good things end.

The flow is extremely erratic and it does not help that the chapters alternate between being told by one of four friends, and the single one of them who is still alive at the end of the night. It is quite confusing who is the narrator of each chapter and several times I had to go back and reread passages to understand who was saying or thinking what.

It does not take many chapters before the storyline goes straight into crazy land. There are multiple capsules of cyanide. There are frequent flashbacks to events happening years before. There is a suicide. Lots of internal monologues, and lots of arguments are had. And there is more sex than you would expect from what is described as a “closed room mystery”.

One of the dinner guest, while attempting to kill one of the others with a sword, dies by falling and hitting her head on a suit of armor, and consequently being pierced in the head by the spikes of the armor. If that was not enough to kill her, the sword she was holding launched out of her hand, rotated around its center of mass in the air, and then plunged into her chest.

I quickly found myself wishing for all of the characters to just die so the book would end.

There were great little pieces, like:

“My attention kept getting stuck on the Finnish translation, and I found myself trying to guess how each sentence went in the original English.”


“…I had learned the dialect of today’s youth relatively well, but this was my first time hearing someone use the acronym OMG in speech. No principle of economy could justify the expression, as it could in a text message, because pronouncing the three letters took just as much effort as three one-syllable words. So it was nothing more than a corruption of the language.”

Unfortunately, the gems were few. Too much of the text was painful to read. Especially the descriptions.

“The high-backed chair was from the same set as the bookcase. It had leather upholstery. The springs bounced nicely when you sat on it. The two couches and two other armchairs matched each other. They had hefty lines. As if Rubens had turned furniture designer. Sometimes I felt like I was sitting in the lap of an ample matron. Between the bookshelves was a fireplace. A light burned in it. It looked like a perfectly real fireplace. There was a poker and a shovel.”

Several times I found myself wondering what the original text in Finnish sounded like, and if part of my issues with this book is just due to bad translation.

The saving grace is the sentence “Oh Jesus’s ecumenical testicles” that Veera says at one point during the dinner. I feel it pretty much sums up my opinion about this book.

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