Deep as Death by Katja Ivar.
The second Hella Mauzer thriller.
“What Hella doesn’t realise, until it’s too late, is that the most dangerous of lies are those we tell ourselves.”
That little teaser for Deep as Death comes from an interview I did with Katja on the publication of her debut, Evil Things, (January last year, see the link). Now I’ve read the new book I understand exactly what she was hinting at, this deadly mystery gets very personal for Hella Mauzer.
Evil Things was an impressive and exciting first novel. Set in Lapland in 1952 it plumbed the depths of the Cold War and it was obvious that detective creation Hella Mauzer would be one to follow. In that novel Hella had recently moved to Ivalo in Lapland from Helsinki, where she had been the first woman in the homicide squad. Hella was the only Ivalo detective who cared about the disappearance of Erno, a Skolt Sami from a small village, Käärmela. Following her instincts leads to some very dark secrets. As winter closes in and the region will soon be cut off by the weather, Hella has to head north for answers but the real danger is not the snow it’s very human.
Often the second novel is more telling than the first, just so here. The impressive debut augured well but Deep as Death shows that Ivar to be an inventive storyteller with ideas in her armoury and her psychological portrait of Hella Mauzer is both subtle and fascinating. Hella has something of Ivar’s grandmother about her, she became a doctor in a man’s world:
“She never doubted that she could be as good as any man…”
Hella is intelligent and strong, although that is tempered by the kind of blindness we all have to problems in our personal lives, she is highly competent, also a bit stubborn. I might have been tempted to call her as a rebel but as I read Deep as Death I realised that it’s not so much that as the fact that ‘she is who she is’, it’s in her DNA to be herself regardless. Hella is a woman who doesn’t consider that she is any less valuable or useful as a detective than any of the men. In fact she’s better for not carrying some of the prejudices they have, and that’s particularly important in this investigation of the death of a prostitute. Hella won’t be bound by patriarchal norms; ‘be a good housewife’, ‘speak when spoken to’, ‘this is no job for a woman’. She’s not a pioneer because she’s fighting a cause, she a pioneer because she’s a natural detective, it’s her. The misogyny of the age is a reflection on society’s failings which her personal driving force is in conflict with. The setting, both the local colour and character and this deeper pervading sexism and patriarchal tradition are perfectly realised.
To course, plenty of very good women writers are creating superb female leads but the combination of background, period, location and extraordinary dynamic character arc make Hella special. At the opening of Evil Things Hella is already leaving the capital city’s homicide squad, by the opening of Deep as Death she’s lost her job as a police officer in Ivalo and is back in Helsinki operating as a private eye, (developments that might take several novels in another writer’s hands happen between two books here). Possibly partly attributable to the fact that Evil Things was originally written as a stand alone, however it came about it’s exhilarating.
Prologue 1935. ‘whore’. A terrified woman makes a dash across a frozen lake knowing how dangerous it is but her pursuer shouts after her:
“You’re dead, Lara.”
She deserted the boy, she’s not thinking straight, she hopes the ice will hold…
February, 1953, Helsinki. Hella’s in trouble again, being sued in civil court by a man she injured while a police officer in Ivalo. It was self defence, this trial is a farce, she was doing her duty. The judge is only capable of seeing a woman who was in a man’s room late at night at a logging camp in Lapland, essentially implying Hella was asking for it, ‘What did she expect?’ The judge awards the man damages.
Hella left the Ivalo police, for ‘insubordination’ read trying to do some real police work. Now she’s back in Helsinki, and if losing her job and the judgement going against her weren’t bad enough, long term lover Steve just left her after four years. Hella has set up as a private detective, she’s in desperate need of money when madame Klara Nyland turns up, one of her girls is dead. Chief inspector Jokela is amusing himself by passing the case on to Hella, homicide can’t be bothered the death of a prostitute. The body of Nellie Ritvanen washed up in the harbour, Nyland doesn’t think it was an accident. She asks Hella to find the killer, for which she’ll pay. Turns out Nellie was three months pregnant and there are other findings from the autopsy the police are ignoring:
“…he said he’d look into it. But let’s face it, Hella. That guy is building a career. Investigating a prostitute’s death, it’s a lot of hassle for very little reward.”
Hella finds Anita, the police receptionist from Ivalo, on her doorstep, come to live with her for a few months. Suddenly inspector Mustonen takes a keen interest in Hella’s case. Things are about to get very nasty investigating the case.
If anything Deep as Death impressed me more than Evil Things, it’s dark, moody and chilling, I can’t wait for more…
Bitter Lemon Press paperback, June 2020, ISBN 9781912242306.
Interview with Katja Ivar: Jan, 2019.

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