Saturday, July 10, 2010

Guest Blogger - Jim Thompson

Our guest blogger this week is James Thompson, an American from eastern Kentucky, who's lived in Finland for twelve years, published three novels there, and recently made his international debut with a haunting book about a Finnish cop.  It's called Snow Angels, and I loved it! 

Before becoming a full-time writer, Jim studied Swedish and Finnish at The University of Helsinki and worked as a bartender, bouncer, construction worker, photographer, rare coin dealer, and soldier.  

Jim and his wife live in Helsinki, from where he contributed this article.

Lucifer's Tears, a sequel to Snow Angels will only be released in the United States in January of 2011, but it's already up for pre-sale on Amazon.

You think the Irish hold the record for public inebriation? Or the Germans? Or the English? Maybe you'll think differently after reading Jim's contribution. 
So, without further ado, here he is, Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. James Thompson:
Helsinki Finland: in the thrall of demon alcohol. Helsinki: too drunk to fuck. Helsinki: too fucked to drunk. Helsinki: my home. 
Albert Speer, Hitler’s architect, wrote in his book, Spandau, something to the effect that if the Third Reich didn’t prevail, it was because it had drowned in a sea of alcohol. Here in Helsinki, we’re not drowning yet, but our noses are just above the water line.
Some facts:
Alcohol consumption has soared in Finland over the past few years and is now Finland's top killer; the leading cause of death in Finland for men and a close second for women. Alcohol now kills more people aged fifteen to sixty-four than cardiovascular disease or cancer. Almost as many women die of alcohol-related causes as breast cancer. Per capita, Finns drank 10.2 liters of 100% alcohol last year. Alcohol is a contributory factor in Finland’s astoundingly high suicide rate, and intoxication is involved in nearly one in four deaths caused by accidents or violence. The Finnish government is taking the matter into hand by beginning sales of alcoholic beverages at 9:00 a.m. instead of 7:00 a.m (yes, that was sarcasm).
In Finnish, the word for both a bar and restaurant that serves food is ravintola. There are around five hundred ravintolat in Helsinki, population approx. 600,000.The majority of Ravintolat serve only alcohol, not food, so that’s one gin joint for almost every one hundred inhabitants. This sounds like a lot of bars, but consider this: as inflation has driven up the price of booze in bars, people drink more at home. Only something like 10% of alcohol is consumed in bars. These days, in Helsinki, the trend is for people to hang out with their friends and drink for most of the evening in someone’s house. They get plastered first, then go to a bar. It’s a far more economical drunk that way.
Every holiday revolves around alcohol.
Vappu, or May Day, or Walpurgis Night, whatever you want to call it, was originally a Northern European pagan carnival. In Finland, it once had strong political connotations, but now the politics are largely forgotten. It’s about drinking, beginning on Vappu Eve and carrying on until the next day people have to work. The years when May Day Eve falls on a Thursday are the worst, as it becomes a four day drunken free-for-all. On Vappu, Helsinki becomes a sea of broken glass and vomit. Children as young as ten or twelve passed out on the streets of downtown.
We just had another major drinking holiday, Juhannus, or Mid-summer. The tactics are different from Vappu, but the drunken result is the same. Helsinki becomes a nearly deserted city, as residents leave to spend Juhannus at summer cottages and get shitfaced while they commune with nature and enjoy the white nights. Usually, a bonfire is lit at midnight in deference to ancient pagan tradition. Most of these cottages are simple affairs without indoor plumbing. Often, these cottages are on islands, on the edges of lakes, and only accessible by boat. A rather morbid national sport is counting the Juhannus death toll. Quite a few people either fall out of their boats, often because they try to stand up to take a piss and lose their balance, or try to go for a swim to cool off after sauna and never make it back out of the water. This year, Juhannus festivities resulted in more than twenty fatalities. Fun in the sun.
Leighton for Jim - Saturday


  1. anna from NBIE II amazon mystery discussion groupJuly 10, 2010 at 9:49 AM

    Hi Jim,

    That Mr Leighton Gage has excellent taste picking you for nurder is everywhere. I love this blog site and I love that you are here with these humorous, cream of the crop, wonderful, invite you into their home, authors. I am peaking into their lives and seeing what interests them, their likes, certainly their countries. their politics, food, family, and the crime in their countries.
    Thank you James and Leighton, for another chance to read and hear about Jim's life, enviroment and views.

  2. Jim, I have been raving about your book to one and all but this post has thrown me. I am of an age to find obscenities offensive. I can't speak for anyone else who reads this blog but I think that obscenity is the fall back point for people who don't have the language to express themselves any other way. That certainly doesn't apply to you. The language, the words, that you use in your books reflect the characters about whom you are writing. Obscenity does not reflect the tone set by the people who created MURDER IS EVERYWHERE.

    The statistics you present about alcohol consumption are frightening and depressing. Generations are being lost to substance abuse; alcohol abuse is culturally supported while drug abuse is not but the damages are the same to people, community, and culture.

    My grandparents were born in Ireland so I know well what alcohol abuse has done to the Irish, even those who are generations removed from Ireland. But I am proud of my heritage, proud of what they have endured throughout history. So I was struck with the overwhelmingly negative image you presented of Finland.

    In your post, you don't present one positive point about the country in which you have chosen to make your home. Why?

    I hope you will respond to that question which I am sure is not mine alone. And, maybe, a mea culpa to the blog host wouldn't be amiss either.


  3. anna from NBIE II amazon mystery discussion groupJuly 10, 2010 at 11:02 AM

    Hello Jim,

    Wow!! You have shocked me with your article. So interesting. So honest! Thank you for giving us this raw side of Finland. Usually we only hear about the cold weather, the herring meals, the blondness, the seas, the dried up fishing industry. This is what I want to read. I love fiction, but if I can incorporate real life and true facts, I can get so much more out of a book.

    Leighton is a master at interweaving the true cold facts and astounding beauty of Brazil inot his Mario Silva series. You are from the same mold!
    I do not know the percentage of alcoholics in the USA, but I see it everytime I work. Lots of abusers, who drink so much they end up in our ER. We do not put them in a room. They have to be watched, so they are in the hallway on a stretcher, usually one or both legs shackled. Maybe arms too. Some of them are violent when we try to treat them. Lots of these patients have broken bones and need blood tests. They bite, spit, swear, yell, and disturb the other patients. It is a real serious problem and needs to be written about and talked about. Only good can come from this article, even if it only makes you drive defensively. Maybe this will be a wake up call for some.

    You are a brave man, willing to push the envelope with your writing and I can only see a brilliant future for you, (and many more books for me).
    Hope to read more articles from you here.

  4. Anna, what James Thompson chooses to write in his books is entirely up to him.

    This is a different situation. When I open the blog, I don't expect it to start off with something that I wouldn't want my grandniece to see. I realize that the blog isn't written with an 8 year-old in mind when the writer chooses the subject matter but I shouldn't have to be concerned with what a child might see if the entry is on the screen.

    Those words couldn't be avoided as soon as the blog was opened.

    Shouldn't a guest blogger have the courtesy to phrase the post in a manner that reflects the taste and views of the people who created the blog? Strikes me as unfair to the person who offered to help the author reach a larger audience that the generosity was repaid by creating an embarrassing situation. Is this different from someone being invited into a home and then spitting on the floor?

    On a public forum, no one should write for the lowest common denominator. That word isn't allowed in public broadcasting, a fact which, as an American, the author would have known.

  5. Fascinating post! And in a moment of synchronicity -- just before I read it, my son was telling me about a Finnish co-worker who, when asked the Finnish phrase for "Have a nice day," said "There isn't one. In Finland everyone knows it isn't possible."

  6. When I lived in Minnesota (not that different in topography from Finland), I was intrigued by the reports about drowning deaths. Apparently a large number of men who drowned were pulled from the water with their trousers around their knees. Same thing as you mention - drinking too much while fishing; falling overboard; and drowning.

  7. Hi Jim,

    I enjoyed your article very much.

    Why do you think alcohol is bigger problem than drugs in Finland than it is in the US?

    I'm so thrilled you've written another book, just sorry we have to wait so long for it.

    I loved, loved, loved Snow Angels. I also enjoy your blog, JIMLAND. It's obvious from your posts how well educated you are and how on top you are on current events.

    I can't help commenting on Beth's post. I think it's inappropriate and offensive of her to judge and censure your choice of words to express yourself.

    I also think her remarks are offensive to the people that do host this blog, especially to Leighton. He invited you as his guest and it's obvious by his introduction he is very happy to have you as his guest.

    As far as using what may or may not be suitable for children to read as a baseline for what is appropriate to post, especially on an adult site is a bit much too.

    Wishing you much success and all the best,

  8. anna from NBIE IIJuly 10, 2010 at 4:12 PM

    Hi Vicki,

    Interesting post by you. A nice day is not possible in Finland? I have so much to learn about the world.

    I did not present my previous post correctly, I think. I mentioned that when I read about Finland, in general, I read about the blonde people, who I think is equated with attractiveness and I certainly think that, the food, the industry, ets. You might think that is what I solely want to read about and I did not mean to infer this. I want to read the personal points of view, such as from Vicki Lane. Stan had a strange but true fact there too. Maybe people would rather not hear these things, but that is life. That is why we read books, to learn about it all, the good and the bad.
    I do not want the Ken Bruens. Leighton Gages, Sam Millars and James Thompsons banned from our blogs, newspapers, libraries for a little offensive language. We all use certain words to convey our thoughts, ideas, rage.

    I agree with Susie about this site is for adults. Children do not need to know about murder except in the simplest of words from their family.

    Stan, I will be picking up A CARRION DEATH from the library next week. Yes! Another great author handpicked by Leighton.

  9. Just curious--in what way does this make Finland much different from anywhere between Dublin and Moscow?


  10. Hi Susie,

    Why is alcohol so much more of a problem in Finland than (other) drug abuse? Social stigma, pure and simple. Especially older people tend not to differentiate the dangers of using, say, marajuana and heroin. Alcohol is socially acceptable and often people are even proud of their drinking exploits.
    Best, Jim

  11. Hi Lenny,
    I'm not familiar with drinking statistics in Ireland (of course I know the reputation, I just don't trust reputations), but yeah, people drink a hell of a lot in Moscow too. As far as boozing goes, I guess it doesn't make Finland much different than other countries with bad alcohol problems. It's just that at the moment, we're discussing Finland.
    Best, Jim

  12. Hi Beth, (Part 1)
    I’m glad you enjoyed Snow Angels so much, and you have my thanks for telling others about it. Are you the Beth from the site, Murder by Type? If so, thank you also for the positive review. I’m happy to respond to your comments, as you requested. You wrote: “I can't speak for anyone else who reads this blog…” It seems to me that you’re attempting to speak for a great number of people. Other readers. The creators of Murder is Everywhere, including Leighton Gage, etc.

    You’ve made some rather presumptuous assumptions. Prior to writing Helsinki: Too Fucked to Drunk, I was aware (before being informed by you) that writing on another person’s blog is rather like being a guest in another person’s home, and I asked Leighton if profane language was a problem. He assured me that it wasn’t. After writing the piece, I delivered it to Leighton early, to further ensure that he didn’t want me to tone it down. He did not, and among other adjectives, described it as “lovely.” As such, it may be that you owe Leighton an apology, not me, because expressing opinions on his behalf—which, based on his comments to me, I don’t believe he shares—is audacious in the extreme.

    You also seem to make certain assumptions about me, for instance, that I’m well-spoken. In fact, I’m not. Except when I write. I often use the grammar I grew up with in Eastern Kentucky. “I don’t/ain’t got no,” etc. So what? In Italian, triple negatives are perfectly acceptable. There are something like three hundred Englishes in the world today. Who can dictate to me what is correct?

    Also, I’ve studied six languages, think in two languages more or less simultaneously, with words and phrases from the others thrown in, and the result is that mentally, I live in Babel. When I speak, I tend to matrice English grammar onto Finnish, and vice versa, and sometimes I even forget which language I’m speaking. Further, I’m quite profane in my private life. It’s not intentional, just a habit picked up from the company I’ve kept during my life. I try to avoid profanity when speaking with my mother and children, and even then, I sometimes forget myself. But again, so what? Walk around the streets of a city in Spain and you’ll hear people say “Fuck your mother,” twenty-five times a day.

  13. Hi Beth (Part 2)

    As to graphic content, I recently published a book here in Finland so harsh that, in comparison, makes Snow Angels look like a Dr. Seuss story. After reading it, a friend asked me if there is anything I won’t commit to paper. I said no, that when I got that sort of feeling, it was an indicator to me that I should write it, because not doing so is for me a kind of cowardice, a failure to confront a story head on.
    As you may have guessed from this response, I’ve given much thought to language lately. To even discuss a thing is to define it. To define it is to limit it. We writers live a paradoxical existence. We attempt to expose life in a new and unique way, to tear down walls and break boundaries, but we use words to do it, and words, as tools, impose limitations that by their very nature lead down a path to the mediocre and mundane. Sorry, I’ve digressed. A bad habit, like my profanity.

    Why didn’t I discuss positive aspects of life in Finland? Because those aspects weren’t the subject. I was discussing alcoholism. I’m a noir writer. I write noir. I think noir. I’ve lived a noir sort of life. In many respects, my worldview is noir. Why would you expect me to write something bright and shiny? I could, I suppose, and there are many wonderful things about Finland, or else I wouldn’t have spent the past twelve years here, but those heartwarming stories should be written by someone else. Those themes, at least at this point in my life, don’t compel me to write.

    It’s at once a source of amusement and irritation to me when readers and/or reviewers think that they know anything about a writer based on the writing itself. I promise you that if I wanted to write a story told through the eyes of a twelve-year-old girl, I would make you believe that a female child wrote it.

    I think that covers everything you addressed and much more. I owe you yet another thanks for your criticisms, as they’ve inspired me to continue the Helsinki: Too Drunk to Fuck commentary. You’ll find Part II on my website blog, probably later today, at
    Best, Jim

  14. anna from NBIE II mystery discussion groupJuly 11, 2010 at 10:32 AM

    Hi Jim,

    I asked you for another article and here it is. Thank you for talking about your writing.
    So heartfelt and cerebral. I was laughing and crying at the same time. I will visit your website later. Thanks, Jim.

  15. Jim--Don't get me wrong--it's a good (and slightly scary) piece.

    I haven't spent much time in Europe, but long ago gave up trying to keep up with folks who start each morning with a shot of grappa or (fill in the national eye-opener). So from my perspective, most of that continent feels like diving into an alcohol pool.


  16. Thank you Anna, I'm glad you enjoyed it. I posted the continuation of the blog on my site.
    Have a look!
    Best, Jim

  17. As you say, Jim, I must first apologize to Leighton and to all the otherwriters who provide us with Murder Is Elsewhere. It is my sincere hope that my comments do not deter anyone from reading this wonderful blog, the first thing I read everyday.

    I have read part II of your blog and I have, at least, inspired you to continue something that is very interesting and will, I hope, encourage some people who read Murder Is Elsewhere to read your blog.

    There are a couple of points I would like to clarify:

    The comments I made were in reference to the post on this blog, not to your book. I look forward to reading the next in the series because I liked SNOW ANGELS so much.

    Anna, I have reviewed the posts that have been make to Murder Is Everywhere and I don't find any that are about murder. I read Yrsa's post on May 12 about "Hidden People" to her and she, her younger sisters, and I spent quite a bit of time on the properties of various relatives looking for dwellings that might house some hidden people.

    When I wrote that I wasn't speaking for anyone else, Jim, it is the truth. I wrote what I was thinking. I didn't expect it to be interpreted as the view of anyone else. Susie wrote that I was "inappropriate and offensive", terms I was definitely not applying to you.

    I should have paid more attention to Leighton's introduction to your post; I didn't notice his use of the word "lovely". Again, I apologize to Leighton for creating the impression that I was channeling his opinion.

    If I can be forgiven, there may be a positive aspect to my comments. They have certainly spiced up the comment section to your post, Jim, and that may bring more readers to your blog, your books, and Murder Is Elsewhere. All deserve a very wide readership.

    Yes, Jim, Murder By Type is my blog although this admission may be the kiss to death to it.

    Again, please forgive my insensitivity.


  18. Hi Lenny,

    Thanks for the complement. I agree, it is pretty scary. It seems to me that the farther north you go, the more people drink, and especially more hard booze. I've noticed in Italy and Spain, for instance, that people seem to drink ä lot, but they tend to be sipping on beer or wine for the most part, not guzzling vodka, and you don't see a lot of people whacked out of their minds. Except, of course, for tourists.
    Best, Jim

  19. Hi Beth,

    Let's not make mountains out of molehills. And I'm sure this won't affect your blog in the least. No worries!

    Best, Jim

  20. "Alcohol now kills more people aged fifteen to sixty-four than cardiovascular disease or cancer."

    Jim, that's just one of many reasons why I advocate for the legalization of marijuana.

  21. Hi Jim,

    I'd love to read the book that makes Snow Angels look like a Dr. Seuss story.

    Any chance that book will be available in the US?

    Have you read any books by Sam Millar? I just finished reading all that were available and have to say, the darker the story the more I like it.


  22. I am glad that I came across this post.
    Well done!