Book Review: The Defenceless by Kati Hiekkapelto (Trans. by David Hackston)


A gritty sequel to Kati Hiekkapelto’s Petrona nominated debut.

Provocative, intelligent, and intense, Kati Hiekkapelto’s first novel, The Hummingbird, signalled the arrival of a new socially conscious voice in Nordic Noir literature. A searing commentary on Finnish attitudes to immigration, the book asked charged questions about integration in the modern Nordic context. An assured début that combined a social conscience with precision plotting.

In her follow-up novel, Kati Hiekkapelto weaves a complex multi-layered narrative that compels the reader to re-evaluate long standing opinions. More strident than its predecessor, the book uses the crime fiction genre to shine a torch onto under-reported social problems.

Pakistani migrant Sammy has fled his homeland to escape religious persecution. After his application for asylum is denied he is forced to live rough on the streets of Finland. Fearful that repatriation to Pakistan might mean execution for his Christian beliefs, Sammy seeks solace in heroin. Believing a life of addiction and scavenging in bins for food to be preferable than deportation Sammy is determined to remain in Finland. After an unexpected death, he comes into contact with the police and has to face the prospect of his liberty being jeopardised.

Suspicious that the reported death of an old man in an apparent traffic accident is not a clear-cut case, police investigator Anna Fekete decides to take a more active role in the case and soon uncovers a shadowy world of illegal immigration, street gangs, and drug smuggling.

Thought provoking and thrilling, The Defenceless is a supremely well-written novel. A much needed contribution to the migrant debate, Hiekkapelto has previously taught immigrant students and used the experience to shatter myths that migrants wish to live in Europe for purely economic reasons.

Socially conscious without polemic, The Defenceless offers further proof that Hiekkapelto is one of the most exciting new authors working in Nordic Noir.

The Defenceless can be ordered from Amazon:

Book Review and Interview: Sewing the Shadows Together by Alison Taylor-Baillie


An intriguing début novel explores the effects of bereavement and the corrosive power of secrets.

Thirty years after the rape and murder of 13-year-old Shona McIver DNA evidence proves that a miscarriage of justice has occurred. A wrongly imprisoned man has his conviction overturned and is released back into the community.

Now living in South Africa, Shona’s brother Tom returns to Scotland to scatter his mother’s ashes. Returning to the city that was once his home he is attends a school reunion and meets former classmates for the first time in decades. Also at the reunion is Shona’s best friend, Sarah.

Married to a TV presenter, Sarah is mother to grown up twins. Juggling her roles as wife, mother, and daughter she frequently ignores her own emotional needs. Haunted by the memory of her friend, old wounds are reopened when the police reopen the investigation into Shona’s murder.

With the killer still at large suspicions fall upon friends and family. Tom and Sarah expose secrets and lies woven across the decades in their quest to bring the murderer to justice.

Sewing the Shadows Together is an emotionally driven whodunnit. Alison Taylor-Baillie’s densely plotted novel sympathetically highlights the trauma suffered by crime victims’ families. Impeccably researched, the book delves deep into the emotional make-up of people who have been bereaved by homicide and tries to understand how they attempt to reconstruct a normal everyday life.

A promising début, Taylor-Baillie has delivered a gripping crime novel filled with vivid characters and a powerful sense of location. An author to watch out for.

Impressed by Sewing the Shadows Together I spoke to Alison Taylor-Baillie about writing the book and Tartan Noir,

What interests you about the crime fiction genre?

I love the fact that it combines a puzzle to be solved, strong character development, where we learn about inner motivation and hidden secrets, and an atmospheric sense of place.

Sewing the Shadows Together is your first novel. How long did it take you to write  it?

It has been in my head for more than thirty years, but it was only when I stopped teaching full-time that I finally found enough time to write it down. Because it had been fermenting in my subconscious for so long it was fairly well-developed by then, so it only took me about eighteen months to actually write. I thought this was quite quick, because I’m a slow writer, constantly going back and rewriting what went before if the characters and plot veered off in their own directions.

You live in Switzerland, Sewing the Shadows is set in Scotland. Do you see the book as part of the Tartan Noir movement or is it Euro Noir?

I think it is definitely Tartan Noir, because of the setting, but Tartan Noir and Nordic Noir are incredibly popular in Germany and the German-speaking part of Switzerland I live in. I’ve already been approached by a German translator who is interested in the book and my Swiss readers have been asking when it will be translated into German so their friends and family, whose standard of English is not as high as theirs, can read it.

What are you working on at the moment?  Will we see a second novel?

 I have started a second novel, also a stand-alone, set in Scotland and Switzerland. Although I wasn’t aware of it at first, I realise now that some of the themes are similar, with hidden secrets, displacement to another country and culture, and family tensions – and, of course, a crime to be solved!

What’s been the most rewarding experience associated with seeing your work in print?

I’ve only been in print for a very short time, but the best thing has been the response – people saying they loved the novel, people who read the story in 24 hours – I find it quite moving. I also like being able to say ‘I am a writer’ – before publication I felt embarrassed about say thing this, but now I feel I can.

Which contemporary crime fiction authors do you enjoy?

I read Scottish and Scandi fiction mainly, occasionally venturing as far south as the north of England. Actually if you google Tartan Noir and Scandinavian Noir you almost see a list of my favourite authors. If I had to pick two who I have been introduced to in the last few years I would say Yrsa Sigurdardottir (I went to all the way to Münich to hear her read) and Lin Anderson.

Do you have any advice for writers working on their first novel?  

The best advice is to read as much as possible; I’ve learnt nearly everything I know about plotting and character development from reading. It is also good to get in contact with other writers, in a writing group or on an Arvon course, as I did. I also benefited enormously from attending crime-writing festivals, not only because I saw my idols on the panels and was introduced to a lot of new writers, but because I met the most wonderful group of supportive people who have stimulated me and widened my horizons in the most amazing way.

Thanks to Alison Taylor-Baillie and Mike Linane for making this interview possible.

Sewing the Shadows Together can be ordered from Amazon: