The Priest of Evil, Paperback

The Priest of Evil Paperback

3 out of 5 (2 ratings)


An ambitious new novel from Finland's most distinguished crime writer, himself still a working policeman after more than thirty years.

Something of an event in Finland, it marks the return of Joensuu to writing after a ten-year gap, along with his key creation, Detective Sergeant Timo Harjunpaa of the Helsinki police Violent Crimes unit.

It is rarely less than a thought-provoking piece of work.

In his native land, Joensuu is considered something of an innovator, so readers should expect something out of the ordinary.

The opening chapters concern first, two terrified children who are compelled to intervene in a potentially life-threatening struggle between their feuding parents.

Then we meet Sinikka, whose function in the plot is yet to become clear.

Abruptly the book switches to a key location: a bare hillside in the middle of Helsinki (we are even given its A-Z reference), riddled with tunnels, one part of which is home to the Priest of Evil himself.Finally the the key story line emerges: Harjunpaa is called in to investigate the suicide of a young man who has apparently thrown himself under a Helsinki underground train - or did he just stumble?Right from the start, however, Joensuu is concerned to disconcert the reader.

Is that disturbing opening chapter 'real' or the work of the writer that we meet later in the book, struggling with writer's block?

Who is Sinikka? What are we to make of the Priest of Evil himself , muttering cod-Latin as he embarks on his campaign to appease his belief in some superhuman earth mother figure?

One thing is certain.All these strategies, whether 'explained' or not as the novel proceeds, (and the background of a key character is left disturbingly - and deliberately - ambiguous), are cleverly interwoven into the fabric of the book and are mostly at the service of its underlying theme, the lack of real focus on our children, and the consequences, not always bad but most often disastrous, of such neglect.

This is not a comfortable read (and the ending is one of the most disturbing I've read in the genre) but, in spite of some later unconvincing plot elements, it is a worthwhile one, and one that will not leave you untouched.

One other thing is never in doubt.From the early chapter where Harjunpaa deals with the aftermath of the death of an old woman, her simple-minded forty year-old transvestite son in attendance, you know that a considerable writer is at work, writing from a lifetime personal experience of disintegrating humanity. Joensuu is also well served by David Hackston's polished and sympathetic translation.

This book is a best-seller in Finland, and has been nominated for the prestigious Glass Key award, the crime fiction prize competed for each year across the Scandinavian countries.

Adventurous readers start here.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Arcadia Books
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Crime & mystery
  • ISBN: 9781900850933



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Showing 1 - 2 of 2 reviews.

Review by

Eurocrime is really a tremendous imprint, providing some real little gems of books from a range of different cultural backgrounds. These books provide the crime reader with a glimpse into another culture. And make you realise that whilst some things are very different, more often it's the similarities that are surprising.The things that THE PRIEST OF EVIL shows are the same in Finland, as they are where I come from, include the way that people can be invisible. Sometimes it's because of age, often it's age and gender combined. The other thing that seems to be guaranteed to make you invisible is doing something that discomforts others. Stand and preach, hand out pamphlets, be old, be old and female, look scruffy, or homeless or somehow "different" and you're pretty well guaranteed to slip under most people's radars. Except for other members of society also slightly on the outer. And that was the other message that came across very clearly in this book - be an outsider and you risk gravitating towards the edges, towards acceptance of any kind. Regardless of whether those edges are safe, and whether that acceptance is unconditional. Although it's not always a given and in many ways the hero's in our society (in this case the tenacious detective), are outsiders in their own right - who were drawn to a different edge.THE PRIEST OF EVIL is quiet and contained, whilst Joensuu creates a very intimate relationship with his characters. As is the way with so many of the very good psychological style crime fiction books, there is a lot that isn't fully explained, resolved or even addressed. The reader is left to consider what it is that initiates the directions that people's lives take.

Review by

I so wanted to enjoy this book, but to be honest it disappointed. No character was developed, I knew as little at the end about the supposed main character as I did at the beginning, and cared even less. And I was hoping it would bring me back to the Helsinki I love, but there too it let me down. It could have been set anywhere, nothing of Helsinki shone through. And the end, the last page, what was that about? Oh dear. I wish i could be more positive, but I can't, sorry.

Also by Matti Joensuu