The Wednesday Club

Written by Kjell Westö

Review written by Jennifer Palmer

Jennifer Palmer has read crime fiction since her teenage years & enjoys reviewing within the many sub-genres that now exist; as a historian who lectures on real life historical mysteries she particularly appreciates historical cime fiction.

The Wednesday Club
Quercus Publishing / MacLehose Press
RRP: £13.99
Released: May 5 2016

Helsinki, 1938: a group of old friends is fragmented over their differing views of the political upheavals of Europe. One of their long term members has recently employed a secretary, Matilda Wiik, who recognises the voice of a club member from her own horrific experiences during the Finnish Civil War of some twenty years earlier.

The importance of the Finnish Civil War is clear for the character who suffered during it, Matilda Wiik, now a secretary in the office of lawyer, Claes Thune. For Claes and his friends in the Wednesday Club, it is the inexorable movement of events in Europe towards another conflagration that dominates their thoughts. Their friendship is fractured because their sympathies are in conflict. Their allegiances range from supporters of the Nazi actions, liberal opponents, sympathisers with [and opponents of] Soviet Russia to those whose bitter experiences past or present are controlling their actions.

The Finnish way of life in the 1930s is well illustrated by Kjell Westo as he handles his disparate cast well; including lawyers, doctors, businessmen, jazz musicians as well as the working class men and women. Uneasiness is a constant feeling as some of these people try to make a modest living while the swirling currents of Communist and Fascist sympathies eddy over events. Despite unfamiliarity with the history of internal Finnish conflict—as well as the names of Finnish characters—if the reader applies a little patience and concentration, the narrative does come into a clear and focused view.

Though a crime novel, it has a literary flare - making it a novel of ideas and history - but infused with the art of the detection genre. Matilda's story is revealed gradually in her own distressing flashbacks, while the newly divorced Claes has his own disquieting memories. Matilda’s memories are suffused with the disturbing past of the Civil War era.  The identity of the man whose voice brings back the disturbing past for Matilda is hinted at, but not revealed until the denouement.

The German actions in 1938 and what they mean for the Finns is naturally of grave concern to the friends [though these thoughts are balanced by the fears of the Soviets]. There is also much detail about Finnish culture of that era which indicates the inroads that Hollywood injected into European popular entertainment. The characters that Kjell Westo has crafted are presented as real people as the reader becomes enmeshed into the story of their thoughts and, ultimately, their actions making for a fascinating insight into another culture, and another time.

Translated by Neil Smith

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