THE STONE MURDERS by Matti Joensuu


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Two maladjusted teen-agers commit mindless murders in Helsinki, Finland--in a glum psychopolice-procedural that's disappointingly reminiscent of message-y American j.d. melodramas stretching back to the 1950's. The police, led by gloomy Timo Harjunpaa, are puzzled by the savage beating (ultimately fatal) of a harmless young plumber: his chest has been jumped on, his belly pounded with heavy stones. Meanwhile, in alternating chapters, we meet 16-year-old Leo (a total monster) and 14-year-old Mikael (a more passive, pathetic accomplice), who are responsible for this ugly crime--and soon for another similar one. Why have these kids become killers? Because of parental neglect and nastiness, primarily: Leo's mother is a crass prostitute, his father is in prison; Mikael's father, a police constable, is tyrannical, violent, abusive. (In case the point might be missed, Mikael repeatedly declares that he imagines attacking his father when assaulting those strangers.) Eventually the police close in on the boys, who have now gone into hiding in a cave. And though the capture is a somewhat hollow victory (underlined by suicide), Harjunpaa finds spiritual renewal in news of his wife's pregnancy: ""He had been so very unhappy, as if something had been irrevocably lost--but now there was something growing amidst the desolation, something that warmed his heart."" Despite dour sociological observations, the Finnish setting here provides little illumination and--especially since British accents prevail (""poofter,"" ""telly,"" ""berk,"" etc.)--little distinctive atmosphere. What remains is a workmanlike but uninspired replay of familiar urban-crime themes, heavily sentimental (and a bit pretentious) beneath the grim, hard surface.

Pub Date: Aug. 19th, 1987
Publisher: St. Martin's