Black Noise by Pekka Hiltunen

3 Mins read

Translated by Owen F Witesman –– When someone starts hacking YouTube accounts and uploading strange videos, the fact that they consist of several minutes of dark silence is just creepy. But in this Finnish crime novel set in London, the strange phenomenon is really a prelude to horror when the vaguely unnerving videos are replaced with what appear to be genuine snuff films. Someone is kicking their victims to death and uploading the dreadful acts anonymously. As more videos begin to appear, and the police investigation turns into a hunt for a serial killer, the evil series has meanwhile gone viral.

At the center of this audacious drama is the mysterious firm known as The Studio. Based in London, it’s run by a mysterious Finnish woman named Mari Rautee, whose reserved demeanor belies an extraordinary resourcefulness and an uncanny ability to read people and fix situations. The Studio selectively and discretely offers their services pro bono in order to right wrongs wherever the police fail to bring justice.

When the book opens, The Studio has come to the aid of a popular radio announcer wrongly accused of sexual harassment. As they deal with restoring his reputation by subtly manipulating his public image, we learn how the crew operates through the specialties of its members. There’s Lia, who, like Mari is a Finnish transplant; Rico, a Brazilian hacker; Berg, a theatrical set designer, and the group’s emotional glue; Maggie, a fearless operator with encyclopedic abilities; and finally Paddy, a former cop.

The Studio learns of the horrific videos and quickly they discern that the police seem to be ignoring the fact that the murders are hate crimes – the victims are homosexual. They divine an essential pattern in the footage that corresponds to a certain pop culture phenomenon, another fact lost on the police. When their offer to help the police is snubbed, they take it further and seek to bring justice themselves, a decision that will change their lives in unexpected and permanent ways.

This suspenseful book has a lot going for it to sustain interest and engagement via the central mystery of the killer’s identity, as well as The Studio’s fascinating tactics. It is less a police procedural, as the police are peripheral, and it has everything to do with social media, ethics, and the cult of celebrity. We hate spoilers so let’s just say the key to the mystery involves everything we ever needed to know about a certain pop star. Events are related mainly through the eyes of Lia, whose day job is a designer at a popular magazine, after which she furtively heads back to The Studio.

As its newest member, we learn from Lia how she gets closer The Studios’ reserved but close-knit members. We know little about their emotional lives until tragedy strikes: one of the team gets too close to the killer and is killed. The mid section of the book deals thoroughly with the ensuing grieving process, and the teams’ soul searching slows down the tempo quite a bit before their resolve fuels them into action. The chase is on and it leads them to a far flung location for the final showdown.

Black Noise forms part of a series concerning The Studio that started with Cold Courage. In this second installment we learn about Mari’s past and upbringing, which explains her character and motivations. One of the strongest characters is Mari’s grandmother, whom we glimpse exclusively on Skype. The Studio’s hacking prowess and ability to skirt the authorities often strains credulity. The author also seems to hit us over the head at times in the attempt to characterise the emotional struggles of the team. I would prefer a slower reveal of The Studio’s mystique, but look forward to seeing what case they take on next.

Hesperus Press

CFL Rating: 3 Stars

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