Click here to read reviewer Dave Seaman's take on Ice Moon.
Grief and fear share center stage in Wagner’s contemporary Finnish thriller. While a serial killer gradually makes himself known by his terrible deeds, a police detective faces an almost unbearable loss, finding temporary solace in the work that fills his days with the harrowing details in pursuing a monster.
Detective Kimmo Joentaa is barely able to navigate the days following his wife’s death from cancer, throwing his energy into a baffling case, a seemingly random murder: “It dawned on him that her murder, the death of another human being, had breathed life into himself.”
It becomes evident as the bodies pile up that a serial killer is making his mark on unsuspecting victims, quietly stealing their lives, virtually unnoticed by witnesses. Convinced that this is the work of one man, Joentaa attempts to inhabit the mind of his prey, the dark place that signals him to kill with impunity.
Unbelievably, the murderer leaves no clues behind for the police to use in building a case, so innocuous as to be unnoticed by anyone as he enters and exits the murder scenes. Joentaa and his coworkers are pressured to solve the crime wave that’s frightening the citizens of Finland, his boss’s rages more unpredictable as the crimes continue without any clues.
Although wrapped in the painful reality of his harrowing grief, Joentaa senses a communion between his pain and that of the murderer, an insidious empathy that reveals a lonely, alienated individual. Throwing himself into the investigation brings Kimmo some relief from his own troubles, but he is torn, yearning as well to unburden himself.
Unpredictably, the detective chooses a stranger, a woman he has interviewed about the murders, to disclose his personal troubles to, unable to understand his compulsion to do so but undoubtedly relieved by his honesty. Afterward, he is able to focus more clearly on the murders, finally recognizing the man who has walked, invincible, through the lives of his victims. What is shocking to Joentaa is that he has met the murderer and failed to recognize him.
The Finnish landscape and the cool, distant moon that follows the killer’s actions serve as a buffer between reader and characters, although such remove reflects Joentaa’s state of mind. Still, it serves as well to distance the reader, as Kimmo and the murderer retreat into more emotionally bearable territory.
The lack of passion that permeates the book alienated me to some degree, and I failed to make a connection with the protagonist, although Joentaa’s grief at the beginning of the novel is particularly poignant. A great fan of Karen Fossum, I found Wagner’s approach similar, but wished for a little more passion to heat up the chill.