Book Review: The Ice Coven by Max Seeck

The Ice Coven by Max Seeck is the second book in the Jessica Niemi series, where Investigator Niemi is in a race against time to find the link between a body with strange markings that washed up on a frigid shore in Finland and two baffling disappearances.

The second book in the Jessica Niemi series finds our Finnish police detective on the trail of two missing persons, all while struggling with professional and personal issues. Translated into English by Kristian London, it’s an absorbing and clever police procedural with unexpected, unsettling twists.

It’s been several months since Jessica lost the man who was not only her boss but also her father figure, Erne Mikson. His eventual replacement, Helena “Hellu” Lappi, is a far cry from the grizzled old veteran detective.

Hellu, on the other hand, doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. She exudes enthusiasm for the position and the self-assurance endowed by her new status, which unfortunately make her an infuriatingly pedantic boss. Jessica has worked under Hellu for only a couple of weeks, but it’s already plain her new director loves punctuality, protocol, paramilitary discipline, and principled bureaucracy. There has been friction between the two of them since day one, and Jessica isn’t sure what the cause is. In any case, the corridors at police HQ have grown narrower and narrower by the day—it’s as if Hellu and Jessica weren’t meant to walk them together.

Jessica is determined to put aside any differences, however, when Hellu assigns her and fellow Violent Crimes Unit Detective Yusuf Pepple a brand new case. Two popular social media influencers, Lisa Yamamoto and Jason Nervander, have recently gone missing. Their last known sighting was at the album launch party for Kex Mace, Finland’s biggest rap star. Lisa had been on the guest list, but her ex-boyfriend Jason hadn’t been allowed inside. While their disappearance immediately after might have raised more eyebrows than concerns, several cryptic posts on their Instagram pages indicate that foul play may very well have been involved.

Meanwhile, junior detective Jami Harjula has caught the case of a seeming prostitute, Olga Belousova, found dead on the outskirts of Helsinki, washed ashore on a frigid beach. While her cause of death is yet unknown, she was found wearing a distinctly manga-like schoolgirl outfit. When Jessica and Yusuf learn not only that Lisa was a manga artist but that she’d previously painted an outfit eerily similar to the one Olga was wearing when she died, the cases combine, leading our team of investigators to a vast criminal conspiracy with a deadly, unexpected killer at its heart.

Even as Jessica and her team race against time to try to find the missing influencers, she must fight her own personal demons. It isn’t just that Hellu seems to have it in for her. The mental and physical ailments that have plagued her since the accident that claimed the lives of her entire family continue to make her life a misery. While that’s nothing she’s not used to handling, what’s new is the increasing strength of her guilt at hiding her real life—one of surprising wealth and privilege—from her team. 

Before he died, Erne tried to encourage her to open up to the people she was finally starting to see as family:

“You shouldn’t have to be worried they won’t like you because of all this … or that having money somehow makes you a worse human being. Or any different. Different from whom they’ve known…”

“Maybe it’s better not to find out.”

“Jessie, I’m just afraid you’re alone for no reason. A lot of people are lonely because they don’t have a choice. Because they’re ugly, crusty, cranky old bastards like me. Decrepit in body and soul after a lifetime of accumulated secrets and mistakes …You still have time to open up your life to someone you trust, Jessie.”

Jessica will have to figure out who to trust, and fast, as a ruthless psychopath seeks to stop her from uncovering the truth in her latest case. Even worse, the witch cult that threatened to destroy her several months ago comes back—but only for a menacing moment towards the end, promising plenty of chills in books to come.

This book, however, had plenty of thrills on its own, particularly in the clever folding and unfolding of the main murder mystery plot. Jessica makes for a compelling heroine as she struggles with mental illness as well as the shades of her past. The casual diversity of the cast was also a big plus for me. I would probably have felt even more deeply immersed in the novel had I read the first book in the series, but it does stand well on its own. And even if I was a little exasperated at the climactic fight scene—folks at home, please don’t try to protect yourself from a sledgehammer swinging for you by attempting to block the head with your hands—overall, I found The Ice Coven an enjoyable police procedural with an unusual heroine and some really fine plotting.

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