REPORTER: TOMI HINKKANEN – SANTA MONICA, CA
Crime pays – at least if you are a successful crime fiction writer like Jarkko Sipilä. And he knows what he is writing about. Jarkko is also a crime reporter working for the Finnish TV network MTV3. The author is currently on a U.S. tour. He recently appeared at FinnFest in Hancock, Michigan to publicize his latest novel, Cold Trail. Finntimes caught up with Sipilä on Independence Day in Santa Monica, California.
He is a big and tall guy of 6’4’’, who cuts an impressive figure walking down Ocean Avenue. When some writers express themselves better on paper, both in his books and in person Jarkko comes across clear and concise. He is a story teller. Jarkko and the family are about to finish a tour of The United States that took them among other places, to the Great Lakes region.
-I came to Minneapolis about three weeks ago. We did some book promoting over there. It was ten days of work, work, work. After that, my publisher let me have two weeks off in California, so I’m here now.
-I have written 18 books in Finnish, of which four have been translated into English. In addition, two books have been translated into German and two in Italian.
Which books were you selling at FinnFest?
-I have written four Helsinki Homicide books. The latest one is called Cold Trail, which came out in April. In Finnish they are called Takamäki Books and they are about a detective by the same name, who works at the Helsinki police department’s Violent Crime Unit. Hence the name Helsinki Homicide.
What is Cold Trail about?
-In Finland, Cold Trail was the seventh in the Takamäki series. It’s a story about a convict, who escapes from his guards at his father’s funeral. It’s up to the Helsinki PD’s homicide unit to bring him back to prison. They start digging into his story and the crime he was convicted of and find strange things. The question that arises is: How far can you go to take the law into your own hands.
In light of the Trayvon Martin murder case, it is a very American as well as current question, isn’t it?
-it is a universal topic.
Scandinavian crime literature is red hot right now in the U.S.. Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy has been made into movies. When are you going to see a movie version of one of your books?
-Hopefully some time. I actually met with some Hollywood producers in Burbank. They have been reading my books, as well as Harri Nykänen’s crime series. They are trying to pitch them to TV networks and film companies. Maybe something will come out of it, or then not.
-The company is called New Wave Entertainment and it is akin to an agency. I met with one of their producers. We had a nice hour long chat.
-They have read Cold Trail and three other books of mine and they like them, but you never know… These are police stories and a lot of such stories have been made into TV series. But at this time we don’t have in the U.S. or anywhere else, for that matter, this kind of very realistic story telling. Stories and characters we see currently on TV are exaggerated and eccentric. In my books, the plot lines and characters are more realistic. The events could happen in real life but are still exciting.
If Cold Trail was made into a movie or TV series, could it be set in the U.S. or would it work better if actually shot in Finland?
-I don’t think it matters where you set it. It could be set in LA, Northern Minnesota, Texas or even Johannesburg, South Africa, because police officers’ mind set is pretty much the same all over the world. Not every cop is corrupt, but want to get to the truth instead. That’s what good cops are made of.
You have a brother who is your partner in crime – tell us about him?
-My brother Jouko Sipilä used to work as an investment banker on Wall Street in New York and got out of that business in 2008. The next year he moved to Minneapolis started a publishing house called Ice Cold Crime, which publishes Finnish crime fiction in English. In addition to my four books, we have two Harri Nykänen’s books and one by Seppo Jokinen. Anja Snellman’s Pet Shop Girls is coming out this summer and next fall we will probably have Jari Tervo’s Among Saints (Pyhiesi yhteyteen). So, we have very good books coming out.
What’s next for you – are you perhaps researching for a new book here in America?
-We did one book with my brother’s friend, who was also a New York banker. It’s a story set in NYC at the eve of the financial crisis. It’s a detective story about two bankers – how they handle the events leading to the crisis. I wrote the Finnish version of it. In the U.S. it is published under Scott Stevenson’s name. It’s called Decay Time. You always think about stories when you are on vacation.
Have you seen any crimes taking place here?
-I saw police helicopters circling above our hotel. You see policemen everywhere here. You don’t see that in Helsinki.
Are there differences that you have seen between the Finnish and American police?
-Like here, in Helsinki every cop has a Glock or another type of a gun. Maybe not the detectives but street cops. In terms of crime, Finland is quite similar to Minnesota. We have about as many people (5.3 million), and homicides as Minnesota does. The cold and snow cool people down, unlike here in LA where it is always warm.
You are not only an author but also a crime journalist – tell us about that?
-It kind of works hand in hand with the writing. You get a lot of ideas from working at MTV3 network’s news. I’ve been doing crime reporting for over 20 years now. At first for the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper and since 1996 for MTV3.
Why is crime so interesting to you?
-It’s not that it is interesting to me but to the TV audiences, readers, web surfers and radio listeners. I think people need and like to know about bad things that are happening in the society. Crime is a little like a magnifying mirror that you have for applying make-up and so on. That makes all the bad things appear bigger as well.
-Greed is a big problem these days. You have criminals that are greedier than before. If you have a lot of violence in a society, like in the U.S., with wars going on, then crimes are also more violent. It maybe one of the reasons we don’t have that many violent crimes in Finland or Europe.
What’s your take on gun control?
-Well, of course you have to realize that shooting is an Olympic sport. In Finland it has some historical value with the long eastern border and wars with Russia. Finns used to think it was beneficial to have lots of guns in case of an enemy invasion. Putting up a militia type of resistance would be easier. If you don’t shoot as a hobby or you are not a hunter, maybe you really don’t need a gun.
What kind of sentences should be handed for violent crimes – harsh ones like in the U.S. or light ones like in Finland?
-It depends. Maybe we should have tougher sentences for repeat offenders in Finland when it comes to violent or sex crimes. Sentencing should escalate more than it does nowadays in Finland. But being in prison really doesn’t make anyone a better person. The rate at which ex-convicts end up back in jail is high. Maybe the best way to control crime would be prevention, helping some of these people before they commit crimes. They are doing it in Finland. But of course you have high youth unemployment and that can lead into criminal behavior. That and drugs are a big problem in Europe. In my opinion, they are only going to get worse.
Where can people buy your books?
-The best way is to go to Amazon.com.
Are you working on a new book?
-My latest one was published in Finland about a month ago. It’s called Valepoliisi (Fake Cop). It may take until fall before I start working on a new one.