Book Review: The Last Grudge by Max Seeck

In Max Seeck's The Last Grudge, Detective Jessica Niemi must battle demons from her past while her colleagues investigate the brutal murder of a prominent businessman. Read on for Doreen Sheridan's review!

After the tumultuous, often horrifying events of the past few months, Detective Sergeant Jessica Niemi is glad to finally be at peace with her co-workers in the Helsinki Police Violent Crimes Unit, and especially with her demanding new boss, Superintendent Hellu Lappi. So it’s a surprise to everyone when she requests a two-month leave of absence, claiming that she has personal issues to settle. Since she’s both legally and morally entitled to that time—especially with her arm still in a sling after her takedown of a killer rendered her incapable of firing a gun for the foreseeable future —they’ve had to allow it, though at least some of her teammates aren’t at all thrilled she’s gone.

One of these is her partner, Detective Sergeant Yusuf Pepple. He’s very much used to being the Watson to her Holmes, thus he’s unprepared to be made lead on a prominent case involving the murder of a famous and controversial industrialist. Eliel Zetterborg is celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of his conglomerate, RealEst, by publicly taking the blame for the shuttering of an unprofitable factory that is the main source of livelihood for three thousand people. He’s about to retire, and wants the next CEO to take the reins with as unblemished a reputation as possible. But as Eliel is preparing at his apartment for a celebratory dinner, he’s stabbed to death by someone who’s managed to get past his expensive security systems.

It’s a bizarre case complicated by the discovery of jigsaw puzzle pieces heaped in the next room, a seeming clue to the murder. Yusuf is not ready for the media scrutiny attached to his first case as lead, and begs Jessica for advice. He’s not entirely surprised when her first words have more to do with handling their team than actually solving the mystery:

“You’re going to find out, for instance, that Jami Harjula is going to press your buttons for as long as the investigation continues. He’s really damn good at it, and maybe it’s unintentional, maybe not. Where Hellu’s going to make you feel small, guys like Harjula make a big production of themselves by saying obvious things out loud. It makes no difference if it’s relevant as long as they’re the first to say it.”


“Kind of like school. Easy points from the teacher.”


Jessica turns to him and laughs: “Yusuf, a grade-school classroom is a picnic compared to our conference room at HQ.”

Jessica has every faith in Yusuf’s ability to crack the case, but knows that handling the egos of their department calls for more finesse than most police detectives are capable of. As the murder investigation gets stranger and stranger however, she allows Yusuf to wheedle her into finally looking at the case files, in hopes her unconventional brain will see something that the rest of their team has missed.

Ordinarily, Jessica would love this kind of challenge, but the witch cult that has bedeviled her for so long is up to no good once more, implicating her in the kind of crime that could send her to prison for life. As if that isn’t bad enough, her ability to differentiate between reality and the horrific visions that occasionally assail her is growing weaker. Worse, she is growing increasingly reliant on these visions, primarily of her dead mother in varying states of decay, to bring her comfort as she investigates:

The bathtub is full. The water is no longer running from the tap.


Come get in the water.


Jessica turns around and lowers her hand into the bath. The water is crimson now.


She feels cold bones around her wrist. The white hand draws her tenderly, beckons for her to dip into the opaque water.


I know something’s going on.


But her mother doesn’t reply.


Jessica gingerly steps into the tub and lets herself sink in up to her neck. Black hair floats at her feet; it looks like a skim of seaweed on the water’s surface.


Bubbles rise from below.

At first, The Last Grudge feels like your standard Scandinavian police procedural, notable mostly for the unusual amount of horror blended into the proceedings. By the time the third act comes along though, you realize that everything that you assumed about this novel is wrong, as Max Seeck masterfully pulls off twist after twist to get to the bottom of both Zetterborg’s murder and the crime from decades past that first provided the impetus for revenge. This book also draws an important chapter of Jessica’s life to a close, even as it signals possible new directions for her and for Yusuf. Translated from the original Finnish by Kristian London, this is one of the finest examples of the Scandinoir genre today, exploding reader expectations to cunningly construct its series of nested and utterly absorbing puzzles.

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