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That has brought him some online flak from Finland’s political right. It probably doesn’t help that some of his most despicable villains seem to be thinly veiled caricatures of well-known politicians or businessmen.

Jukka Petaja, a novelist and literary critic at the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper, said many Finns don’t agree with the image of Finland that Thompson portrays.

“But it doesn’t prevent readers from enjoying books by him,” Petaja said. “Having some distance from Finland, Jim Thompson can also see some phenomenon even clearer than many Finns.”

Thompson insists he doesn’t write “to send political or social messages” but like Finland’s national poet Johan Runeberg, his books are filled with characters and plots that do just that.

Even Thompson’s leading man Vaara, whose name can be translated as “Stone Danger,” seems to be a nod to Runeberg’s 19th-century protagonists who had heroic yet simple surnames that supposedly reflected their honesty and valor.

Thompson’s characters side with the common man. The crimes of everyman characters are dismissed with a sentence or two of forgiving prose: alcoholism leading to child abuse, casual spousal violence, multiple fatal stabbings. The crimes of the rich, the powerful and the politically connected, however, are treated more seriously, and Vaara’s disdain for Finland’s elite is often barely disguised.

The pub’s heavily tattooed barman dutifully refills Thompson’s coffee, but there’s also a bottle of vodka in the freezer with the author’s name on it. Not surprisingly, Vaara likes to chase his beers with a shot of vodka too.

“There’s a part of the author in every character,” Thompson says.


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