Notorious hills

Turku’s seven hillls are Finland’s best vantage points for views of the historic and beautiful landscapes of the river Aura. However, they are also associated with fascinating and macabre stories, which we explore alongside Turku’s crime novelist, Jari Salonen.

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THE TALL, SLENDER MAN STRIDES  lightly toward the summit of Kerttulinmäki and the memorial awaiting there. He is Turku detective novelist, Jari Salonen, with whom we are searching for clues in the hills of Turku, why for time immemorial people have found fascination in crime.

On a September evening, Kerttulinmäki is a peaceful residential area. Close by is the beautiful old Kerttulin School, in which former president Mauno Koivisto studied. At the end of a nearby apartment building there is a mural depicting the urban environment. The surrounding buildings are well maintained. Below the memorial are grow boxes, in which locals living close by grow vegetables. You might also see flowers grown there. At night, the silhouette of the nearby cathedral is visible from atop the hill.

From medieval times to the 1700’s, Kerttulinmäki was known as Hirttomäki (‘Lynch Hill’).

This area is very different from how it was hundreds of years ago. From medieval times to the 1700’s, Kerttulinmäki was known as Hirttomäki (‘Lynch Hill’). Criminals were executed and the bodies were left to hang as a warning to others, such as those travelling from along the Häme Härkätie road.

Our fascination with crime and criminals is the same now as it was then. We ask author why he thinks that is?

“Detective stories are like a puzzle, plot construction is fascinating, much background work is needed and the characters must be believable. When all this comes together, crime novels are engrossing,” says Salonen, continuing: 

“Through books, it’s easy to approach safely our fears, dangers and even death, whilst at home, on our sunny travels or in the hammock at a cottage. Fascination is strengthened by familiarity and repetition. When you discover a     great character, you can easily spend time with them across a series of books.” 

Of his own main character, Jukka Zetterman, Salonen has a clear opinion: 

“Sure, he resembles me, a retired man who likes Finnish music, who is a little bit introverted.” 

Salonen’s fourth Zetterman detective book, Ontuva mies (The Hobbled Man), will be published in February 2019.

The plot thickens as we walk

During the conversation, the secret of Salonen’s fast walking pace becomes clear. When planning a book he estimates that he will easily walk about 250 kilometres. The rhythm of walking helps to weave the plot.

During writing, he often sits at his home on another of Turku’s seven hills, on Aninkaistenmäki. Other shocking events find their origins there. The nearby street of Maariankatu,was the epicentre of the Great Fire of Turku in 1827.

Salonen has been writing his whole life, but an author for just a short while. 

“I was only able to call myself an author when I had published three books,” he asserts. His books are Kuokkavieraat (The Unexpected Guest, 2016), Jahti (Manhunt, 2017) and Kätkö (The Hoard, 2018). Salonen has lived in Turku for decades. The Market Square has an important role in his books. 

“Often with my wife we visit there for morning coffee. We’ve become familiar with local entrepreneurs and other regulars.”

The author constantly gathers material from around him and the most memorable events and expressions come to life in his books. For example, a cursing café customer, Salonen’s Turku-Italian barber, a doctor living downstairs and a local goldsmith, have all left their mark in the novels.

“Of course, I’m not writing specifically about anyone, but I think the characters come alive through the things I hear. A lot of background work is required because the details must be right.” When reading Salonen’s books you can be sure no factual errors are found. It is a point of honour to be correct.

Inside the rock

We are on our third hill, which needs no introductions. It is Kakolanmäki. 

An ideal place to reflect on why Salonen chose to write crime literature.

“I liked detective novels. As an author, I don’t feel I have the need to tell some ‘great’ story. I prefer to build a complete and intriguing plot, which the reader is interested to follow. Another Turku-based detective novelist, Reijo Mäki, likens his own novels to adult fairy tales. I think along the same lines,” says Jari Salonen.

It’s in these areas where you are reminded of many stories only suitable for adults: 
Matti Haapoja, the mass-murderer of Malmelin, Count Lindgren, Auervaara, Jammu Siltavuori, Volvo-Markkanen, Juha Valjakkala... decades of tabloid headlines flitter across the eyes.

We’ve come inside the renovated former regional prison. Within the area’s hierarchy, the prison was relatively easy, with many prisoners themselves named it “full of innocence”: first offenders, financial crimes, short convictions and prisoners on remand. (Rauno Lahtinen and Anu Salminen; Kakola – The Story of a Prison.)

Inside, however, it is stifling, distressing and grim. In the memoirs of Volvo-Markkanen, it is easy to relate when he writes the words: “At the front opens a wide corridor, with long rows of cells on three floors. God help me that was a ghastly place. A hell on Earth. It was sure to say that this held prisoners at the peak of their career. Everywhere was quiet. You couldn’t continue down any corridors as all doors were closed. Still I could sense the hopelessly bleak atmosphere.”

Few Turku locals have visited the hill, even though the prison shut down in 2007. Jari Salonen admits to being a first-timer. Kakola is now described in totally new ways. There is a small coffee roastery, a microbrewery, a restaurant, a café and a frenetic housing development. The former prison buildings will become a residential area in the coming years, where a funicular will elevate it’s way from the Aura riverside, providing visitors with magnificent views.

The walls and doors of the cells are covered with wisdoms of life or the objects of yearning. "Free and unrestricted sex services", "A life sentence is enough", "Turku is the land of Smurffs". Many on the insides of these walls, were literally and figuratively naked.

The outer door and the world behind seem very distant.

ZETTERMAN HAS NOT BEEN FORCED in the stories to face the most appalling opponents possible. Salonen’s books do not indulge in violence, sex, horror or evil. The characters are comfortable; the criminals are human. It has become a habit for Jari Salonen to write his notes at flea markets, whilst his wife eagerly searches for old dishes. Maybe the humanity in the characters arise whilst there?

“It’s fun to write about criminals who have slightly eccentric characters. Then you can freely develop the ways that the criminal justifies their actions to themselves. They must not be too strange, but not too wholesome either.” 

Text Ilona Kangas and photos Kim Allen-Mersh.

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