In 1974, a student befriends Pärssinen, the gardener of his apartment complex in the town of Turku, Finland. Pärssinen invites him to drink and watch pornographic movies from his extensive collection. One night when both are full of alcohol, the gardener stops a girl on a bicycle, rapes and strangles her, and tosses the body in a lake. The drunken student is a baffled witness. The body resurfaces several months later, but the case is never solved. Her name was Pia.

More than thirty years later, in 2007, another girl, Sinikka, goes missing. Her bicycle is found with traces of her blood right beside the memorial shrine to Pia at the place of her murder. The retired cop, Ketola, is convinced that solving this new crime will also solve the old one.

At the same time, far away in Helsinki, Timo Korvensuo and his wife are entertaining friends. He is a successful real estate agent with a lovely, kind wife and two children, a boy and a girl. News of the missing girl greatly disturbs Timo and he leaves home headed to Turku telling his family it is for business. The reader realizes that Timo must be the unnamed student who witnessed the first murder.  

In parallel with the police investigation, Timo’s abject wanderings in Turku seem to be centered on (re-)finding and perhaps outing the original killer. Police discover that Sinikka’s parents are consumed with guilt for the difficulties they have had with their adolescent daughter; they fear she has been snatched, perhaps killed, before they could patch things up.  The father is a suspect.

Timo finds Pärssinen again and learns that he is unaware of the copycat crime. The police also also visit Pärssinen as a person of interest, but nothing comes of it. Timo goes to Pia’s mother, still living in the same home, to express his sorrow for her loss.

SPOILER ALERT!  Primed by Ketola, Pia’s mother contacts the police. They raid Timo’s home in Helsinki and find child pornography on his computer. They know he cannot have committed the recent crime, but they are convinced that he killed Pia. As the noose tightens, Sinikka reappears alive and well from a hiding place in the forest. She staged the second crime as bait to lure the true killer in a plan she had cooked up for Ketola. Timo commits suicide and the police close both cases, but they are wrong.


This murder mystery is a fascinating psychological thriller that explores the powerful emotion of guilt in many guises. It is engagingly well written.

The reader knows that Timo is ridden with guilt for Pia’s death, but cannot fathom what he will do. Although he did not touch her, broke off with Pärssinen, left his studies and Turku altogether, the episode scarred him deeply. On the one hand, he lives a conventional, seemingly secure life within a loving family; on the other, he has certain understated obsessive-compulsive traits of orderliness, counting, and cleanliness that belie deep anxiety. His guilt seems as much to be over the sexual stimulation he derived from child pornography as it is over the crime of Pärssinen.

Sinikka’s parents also feel guilty—that they might have driven their daughter away or, if she has been taken, that they did not express their love to her when they could.

Ketola too felt guilty that Pia’s crime had never been solved. Full of admiration for Sinikka’s brilliant plan, Ketola sinks back into retirement happy to have “solved” the case that had hung over him for three decades. But he feels no remorse for manipulating Sinikka’s parents and his police colleagues (and the reader!). For him, the means justified the (mistaken) end.

Timo condemns himself. He cannot bear the guilt of his knowledge and of his silence. Nor can he bear living to witnessing the shame this will bring upon his family if he confesses. Meanwhile, Pärssinen, who feels no guilt at all, mows the lawn and repairs the swings just as he always did. He has transferred his pornography collection to DVD.


Translated from German by Anthea Bell.


Harvill Secker

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