One of the main rivers in central Europe is the Tisza at one stage called “The Most Hungarian River“ for despite now also flowing through Hungary, Ukraine, Romania, Slovakia and Serbia at one stage it flowed entirely though the kingdom on Hungary. Along it banks you will find numerous forms of wild life among them is the Mayfly. It was the Swedish – Finnish journalist Heidi Avellan who coined the phrase ‘The Mayfly Effect’, to describe a movement or an event which harnesses the right social current at the right time.
Avellan’s comment sprang to mind while I read this month’s book as it is set during the Mayfly Flowering on the Tisza. The book is The Exiled, the latest offering from Kati Hiekkapelto’s’ and published by Orenda Books (www.orendabooks.co.uk) in November 2016.
This is the third novel featuring Hiekkapelto’s Finnish Police detective heroine, Anna Fekete. Here, she travels from Finland to her home village in the Balkans to have a holiday and catch up with family and friends. Her visit is set to coincide with the much anticipated ‘Flowering of the Tizsa’ when the mayflies hatch and take to flight in great clouds over the river. A cause for celebration in the locale each June. Her break gets off to a poor beginning however, when her bag is stolen. Later the thief is found dead by the riverbank. Anna cannot help but take an interest in the investigation, which she feels is being poorly carried out. The victim is identified as a refugee and local in tolerances and prejudices come to light. As she delves deeper Anna finds links to her own father’s death. Untangling a web of deception and corruption, her own life and that of a refugee child are put in danger.
This is the first of Finnish author Kati Hiekkapelto’s (www.katihiekkapelto.com) three books I have read and I will certainly be reading the others. The Hummingbird was published in the UK in 2014 and her second , The Defenceless was published in the UK in 2015. Hiekkapelto started writing when she was two recording her stories on to a tape cassette, her first job was as a special needs teacher to immigrant children. Nowadays she devotes her time to writing from her base in a 200 year old farm house in northern Finland, while in her spare time she performs with her band, runs, ski’s hunts and tens her garden.
Anna Fekete is a strong female lead. I was particularly impressed by the sensitive portrayal of the strained relationship between herself and her mother and how, as secrets are revealed, Anna and her mother learn to understand each other better.
The movement of populations and the rezoning of country boundaries loomed large in the book and made it very relevant in the current refugee crisis. Whilst we were given descriptions of the refugee camps and the problems they faced we were also aware that Anna’s family were themselves had been refugees. I was also given the impression that the Hungarian inhabitants of the area where being sidelined by the Serbian population. Anna is herself, living as an immigrant in Finland and much was made of the differences in the two cultures. My knowledge of the geography and history of the area are poor and I was prompted to do a small amount of background reading. However, my own lack of ‘sense of place’ did not detract from my enjoyment of the book.
I found the book to be well written and tightly plotted with a good level of suspense. It had a certain depth and I would not consider it a light read, whether that is due to the setting or the content I’m not sure. Anna is a multidimensional character. Driven and feminist, she can also show a more vulnerable side, which we see in her relationship with Peter. The supporting cast of characters were also well drawn and I was fascinated by the descriptions of the riverside village, the camps and the library club.
Whilst the mayfly only lives for the briefest of times , I hope Anna Fekete makes many more appearances. So flit down to your local bookshop for a copy or download it.
Reviewed by Georgina Murphy