Allan Martin’s protagonist, Chief Inspector Jüri Hallmets from Death in Tallin, returns to solve a new crime in the sequel to Death in Tallinn, Winter Blood. Martin crafts vibrant characters and settings, throwing the reader into the thick of pre-World War Two Estonia, a period of independence from German and Russian occupation.
After the discovery of the body of the prominent retired General Madrus, who has ‘fallen on his sword’ (a practice performed by Roman military leaders), Hallmets is called upon by the Interior Ministry to uncover the ‘whodunit’ and its potential political links. Hallmets begins his investigation at the crime scene and the victim’s home, an eerie, Gothic 1870s castle located in Viljandi – perfect for a murder mystery. He unearths some potential early suspects including the mysterious Raud Kirik and Villem Jonsson, which leads to further questioning beyond the castle walls.
However, everything and everyone is not what it seems. As the narrative progresses it becomes clear that the General’s past in World War One has returned to haunt him. I always find that crime thrillers that allow the reader to solve the case too early results in the story falling flat. But thanks to Allan’s unexpected plot twists, the reader must constantly rethink their chosen suspects, and subsequently we are kept guessing until the end, unsure of what lies ahead.
The novel is gripping and action-packed, illustrated by an ‘American gangster’ style shoot-out and second murder in the build-up to the climax, when Hallmets and his team uncover a coup d’état. The careful construction of dialogue brings the characters to life, as we envision their quirky traits, and feel their raw emotions as the suspense builds. Set during winter the accounts of the ‘swirling snow’ and ‘freezing cold,’ adds to the chilling mystery, juxtaposing the delicious and warming descriptions of food, which feature throughout. ‘Roast pork and potatoes with cabbage sautéed with smoked paprika’ and ‘cheesecake topped with sharp-tasting orange sea buckthorn berries,’ are sure to make any readers stomach grumble and mouth-water.
Allan offers an alternative and exciting narrative to historical thrillers, which have frequently been set in other parts of 1930s Europe. The story offers a glimpse into the harsh reality of those fleeing Russia during the Bolsheviks Revolution, and Estonians fearing the rise of the Nazi party in Germany. Allan’s dedication to historical accuracy demonstrated through his tireless research, secondary sources and regular visits to Estonia, creates vivid imagery of a country anxious to hold onto independence, and fearful for the future. He even successfully incorporates several real historical figures including Artur Sirk, leader of the Vaps Movement, Kaarel Eenpalu Minister of the Interior and President Konstantin Päts.
Read, Winter Blood and I assure all readers, you will be captivated by the drama, action, and justice that will leave you longing for another Jüri Hallmets’ investigation.