I’m glad I stumbled across this book on Raven Crime’s blog at the end of last year because I liked it so much. One could say it’s less a crime novel than a novel about a crime and a study of the ways we deal with the many global problems we’re facing. Ultimately, it’s also an exploration of family dynamics and responsibility.
The story is set in contemporary Helsinki and Mogadishu and told from several different points of view. Laura, an expert in climate change, Erik, her husband, and their son Aslak live in Helsinki. Their daughter, Aava, is a doctor in Mogadishu, where she’s helping the poorest of the poor.
Right from the beginning we know that something’s wrong with Aslak. He hardly talks to his parents, doesn’t always show up when he’s invited, doesn’t seem to work. He’s drifting. While it worries his mother, it doesn’t come as a surprise as he’s always been difficult. Laura isn’t sure, where that comes from and in several chapters, telling the back story, she tries to analyze why Aslak is the way he is. Should she have stayed a single woman and not had children, like she originally intended? Was Aslak born different? Or is his character the result of a traumatic experience? As a young boy, he vanished for several hours and nobody ever found out what happened to him.
When a young man begins to open fire on passers by, in the center of Helsinki, there’s no doubt who the shooter is.
While the book is about the reasons for such a drastic act, it’s also about more than that. Each of the three major narrators – Laura, Aslak, and Aava – respond to the world around them, to consumerism, overpopulation, animal abuse, climate change and many other global problems in a very specific way. I absolutely loved the way Elina Hirvonen explored the very different ways to find solutions to global crises.
The character I found most interesting was Aava. In an attempt to help the poorest people of Somalia, she risks her life and health. Very often with very little success. At times, she manages to save a child, only to see it die a few weeks later of some ailment that wouldn’t be of any consequence in Europe. The struggle and futility of it all often lets her lose faith. According to a short biographical notice I found online, Elina Hirvonen has travelled a lot and knows Africa very well. One can sense that. The parts set in Africa felt just as authentic as those set in Finland.
As I said before, the book is about a crime. About why a young person would commit it and how this will end for him and his family. One of the central themes is responsibility, responsibility for children, other people, animals, the planet. It shows the many contradictions we face, how, even when we try to do well, we might still fail on some level. And, it also shows that it’s often easier to help strangers than your own family members, easier to communicate with someone one hardly knows than with a brother, mother, sister or husband.
When Time Runs Out is an engaging, thought-provoking book that tackles major themes of our time and looks at them from different points of view. And it’s also an analysis of the struggles of family life, missed communications, missed opportunities. It’s biggest strength however, is that it allows us to understand people whose choices are very far from those we make. Another reason this was so engaging and readable is the structure and the narrative techniques. It’s so well constructed and balanced.
It’s not often that a crime novel would make an excellent choice for a discussion group – this one certainly would.
19 thoughts on “Elina Hirvonen: When Time Runs Out (2017) – Kun aika loppuu (2015) Finnish Crime”
Super review Caroline.
It seems unusual that this is a crime novel. The characters and situations seem like that fit into a different kind of book. With that, the characters and situations make this sound fascinating.
Thanks, Brian. I loved it for the choice of themes, exploring moral dilemmas. Not your run-of-the-mill creative me. Very thought provoking.
I read another Finnish crime novel that had a setting outside Finland from orenda books
Thanks, Stu. I’ll have a look.
I’ll check this one out, Caroline. It sounds as though the author did something a little different with the subject of crime.
She did. I’d love to know what you think of it.
Looks like it’s available for the Kindle. I’ve been reading a bit of icelandic fiction lately. (the Dark Iceland series)
I have a few Icelandic and other Finnish crime here. But at the moment, I’m reading Hotel du Lac. Marvelous.
It’s great isn’t it
Some of the very best crime novels are the ones that deal with social issues–I guess it makes sense, really, trying to figure out the reason behind why a crime is committed–this sounds good, a cur above the rest since it is not really your typical story. It’s a story I almost am surprised that would be set in Finland, but then again, sadly, maybe it doesn’t matter as this is the sort of thing that happens anywhere these days.
I think you would definitely enjoy this. I thought it was different and thought-provoking. once you read the choice of Finland will make sense. And I also think it could happen anywhere.
This does sound intriguing, Caroline…I will check it out.
I too enjoyed Hotel du Lac.
I hope you’ll like it. Let me know.
Brookner is great. I’m going to read more of her.
Beautiful review, Caroline! It is wonderful to know that Elina Hirvonen’s book focuses on the larger issues rather than the crime. I loved what you said about how sometimes it is easier to talk to strangers and understand them rather than our own family members. Thanks for this wonderful review! Let me see whether I can push it to my book club 🙂
Thanks, Vishy. This would be a terrific book club book. It was so well done. It’s not too long, btw, maybe that will help to convince the other members in your group. 🙂 I think it can be easier to talk to strangers. It’s a bit sad.
Thank you, Caroline. Will nudge my book club members to choose this next time 🙂
let me know how it went.
I definitely will 🙂