Friday, April 6, 2012

James Thompson's "Helsinki White"

James Thompson is an established author in Finland. His novel, Snow Angels, the first in the Inspector Vaara series, was released in the U.S. by Putnam and marked his entrance into the international crime fiction scene. Booklist named it one of the ten best debut crime novels of 2010, and it was nominated for the Edgar, Anthony, and Strand Critics awards. His second Vaara novel, Lucifer’s Tears, released in March, 2011, earned starred reviews from all quarters, and was named one the best novels of the year by Kirkus.

When the third book in the series, Helsinki White, was released last month, Thompson replied to a query about casting an adaptation of the novels:
Good question, since the film rights for the first three books in my Inspector Vaara series have been optioned, and the fourth soon will be. The first novel is a murder mystery set in Kittilä, a small town in the Arctic Circle in Finnish Lapland, next to the ski resort, Levi. The next two books take place in Finland, are centered in Helsinki, but include the city of Turku and the islands of Åland as settings. One might think of it as a Millenium Trilogy-type project, but set in Finland rather than Sweden (note: same type of project, but not storytelling. My writing style and Larsson’s have little in common).

The great challenge for actors taking the leading roles is language. As is becoming increasingly common practice, the language that would naturally be spoken by the characters is spoken in the film. Finns speak more languages than any nationality on the planet, with an average of four. The most commonly spoken, after Finnish, are Swedish (a second national language), English, and Russian. The series protagonist, Kari Vaari, speaks all of these fluently, with the exception of his Russian, which is weak.

Kari, a policeman, is married to an American named Kate. She hasn’t lived in Finland long enough to learn to speak the language, which is notoriously difficult, and so Kari and Kate speak English with each other. In the rest of his life, Kari speaks Finnish. I’m co-screenwriter, by the way, and I’m sure we can write it in such a way that the actor playing Kari need only speak those two languages, although in the book, he speaks a few words of Russian and Swedish.

I must admit that I’m almost completely out of touch with American pop culture, having not lived there for fourteen years, and watch few Hollywood films. Except for major stars, I know little about what actors are currently famous, or what their skills are. George Clooney demonstrated his ability to learn and act in foreign languages in Syriana. Matt Damon did the same in The Bourne Identity. I think either would do well in the role of Kari Vaara.

I read in a Finnish newspaper that Matt Damon stated he has Finnish ancestry, would like to find a worthwhile project here, and make an extended stay to learn about his roots. My agent contacted his agent, but I’ve had no reply. However, given his talents and motivations, it seems to me that playing Vaara in Snow Angels and the following films would suit Damon very well.
Learn more about the book and author at James Thompson's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Snow Angels.

The Page 69 Test: Helsinki White.

Writers Read: James Thompson.

--Marshal Zeringue