“Holy Ceremony” by Harri Nykanen— Jewish Themes and Nordic Crime


Nykanen, Harri. “Holy Ceremony”, translated by Kristian London, Bitter Lemon Books, 2018.

Jewish Themes and Nordic Crime

Amos Lassen

Ariel Kafka is a detective with quite a fascinating name and this is the third volume in the Ariel Kafka series. This is not regular detective fare— it is something special in how it brings together classic Jewish themes with the traditions of Nordic crime and we see professional responsibility and ethnic affiliation clash. You will probably be surprised to learn that there are two Jewish cops in Helsinki. Ariel Kafka is one of them. He is a lieutenant in the Violent Crime Unit and sees himself first as a policeman first, then as a Finn, and finally as a Jew. He is stubborn and dedicated policeman who is always willing to risk his career to get an answer.

Kafka’s latest case is that of a woman’s body with religious texts written on it. She was found in a Helsinki apartment but was not murdered there. It seems that her body was stolen from the morgue. Then the body was stolen a second time and is found and this time is part of a sacrifice in a funeral pyre in Helsinki’s Central Park. This leads Kafka to investigate a series of crimes that lead to the enigmatic Christian Brotherhood of the Holy Vault. Now if you want to know more about this organization, you will have to read the book because to say anymore about it would spoil the read.

What I can say is that what begins as an investigation of Christian religious lunatics becomes a hunt for a perpetrator who is mentally damaged and was the victim of pedophilia at a boarding school. The Brotherhood of the Holy Vault was founded at the school. Former members of the Brotherhood members have gone on to become Oxford professors and important CEOs and all are now hesitant and reluctant to recall their school days. But before Kafka can solve the puzzle, more than one person must pay for past sins with his life.  The final twist takes the investigation in a totally different direction and we see the ultimate motivation for the crimes is money and that the mentally unstable alleged perpetrator being is used as bait.

What began as an investigation of Christian religious lunatics becomes a hunt for a perpetrator. The book reads quickly and I found myself turning pages as quickly as possible and each time being caught up in twists and turns. There is dry humor here as well as suspense. I do not often say this because I do not always have the possibility to do so but I had a great time reading this.

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