4 August 2016

As Red as Blood

Image from www.hotkeybooks.com
As Red as Blood
Salla Simukka (trans Owen F Witesman)
Hot Key Books, 7 August 2014
PB, 236pp
Source: Advance copy from Hot Key Books

Snow White Week, part 1

Snow White Week begins here! 

To explain - I'm celebrating Salla Simukka's Snow White trilogy (As Red as Blood/ As White as Snow/ As Black as Ebony), published in the UK by Hot Key. I'm a sucker for twisted fairytales (for example, Sarah Pinborough's retellings in Tales from the Kingdoms) and I've loved these stories of Lumikki Anderson.

They're YA crime/ thriller/ undefinable and just generally terrific. There are three relatively short books - perfect for a summer binge read.

I'll be posting reviews of the three books over the next few days, followed by an interview with the author herself.

So here goes - As Red as Blood.

Once upon a time, there was a girl who had no fear...

Reading As Red as Blood taught me two things. First, that labels aren't always helpful. Secondly, that I can be a teensy bit prejudiced.

What do I mean? Well, it was only after reading this wonderful, gripping, suspenseful crime caper story that I bumped into someone who told me it was a YA book. Well, yes, I can see that now but it certainly didn't occur to me when I read it. And it might even have put me off if I'd known before. I have my biases (no YA in my young day, etc etc). Clearly I need to be more flexible.

Whatever. I want to persuade you to read this, and I'll tell you whatever it takes - call it a YA drama, a twisted fairytale, a crime thriller, or just a stonking good story. (It is all of those things).

Lumikki Anderson is a Finnish high school student living in the city of Tampere. Finland is a foreign country: they do things differently there. Lumikki is living 70 miles from home, in her own little flat, while she finishes school. It sounds a nice life, yet her days are haunted by regret and the memory of some dark events. Regret, for the lover she knew in the summer and has lost. (This book is set in the deepest, darkest winter). Memory of - well, that might be a spoiler. It's enough to say she learned some tough lessons in survival, the first of which is, don't get involved.

That's an easy enough rule to follow in the cauldron of school, just avoid the cliques, the popular kids, find a place of your own in the pecking order, don't join in. Simukka is good at conveying the subtle nuances of teenage life, the positioning between groups:

She was the puzzle piece that didn't have its own place but could suddenly fill in almost any hole you needed it to.
She wasn't like the others.
She was exactly like the others.

This, Lumikka can cope with. It's not so easy though when you walk into the middle of something nastier...

At the start of the book we witness a death. Then some kids seem to be involved in a crime. Then Lumikki (named after Snow White) comes on the scene. Her self-sufficient life is about to be split right open by the consequences of the murder, of the crime when on February 29th, Leap Day, Lumikki wanders into the school darkroom and find money hanging up to dry.

Blood stained money...

From that moment the story never lets up. The general setup is clear - shady drug bosses keeping their underlings in line - but exactly how the pieces fit together is kept mysterious till well on in the story. The tension, and peril, crackles like a high voltage power line. Just what kind of a mess is Limukki getting into? Can she rely on her three classmates - Elisa, Tuuka and Kasper - or will they lead her into worse trouble?  It's a tautly written, driven narrative, very well served, I think, by Witesman's translation, in which Simukka adroitly balances the everyday (survival in the cold of a Finnish winter when if you go out without a warm hat you may die), the comings and goings from the school and coffee shop, the clothes, the rivalries between the teenagers - and the darkness that lurks just out of sight. 

The immediate darkness is the criminal gang, which seems to have tentacles everywhere, but there's also Lumikki's history - just what has happened to her, and how has it made her so good at escaping attention? Maybe she can use those skills to solve the crime, but then she'll become involved in a world of drug dealing, pimps and murder. (Never get involved).

Woven together with these are fragments of fairytale:

Once upon a time, there was a girl who learned to fear...

It's an exciting read, and only the first part of a trilogy. 

Tomorrow, I'll be reviewing As White as Snow, and we'll see what Lumikki gets up to next...

For more about the books, see here. To buy As Red as Blood, go to your local bookshop, or herehere or here.

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