Simo Häyhä – a real life inspiration

Earlier this year I wrote a short piece to my Finnish readers. The story about how a hero from the Winter War became an inspiration for Those Who
 might be of interest for others as well, so here it is.

Simo Häyhä 1905 – 2002.

In 2002 I had just started out as a political reporter for the Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang. That autumn I was sent to the Nordic Council meeting in Helsinki, where politicians from all the Nordic countries meet, drink cheap wine and eat finger food, while they discuss what a union between the Nordic countries should have been like. It was one of my first trips abroad as a journalist.

I do not remember much from the meetings themselves. Believe me, it was not that kind of meetings. But one memory is still vivid.

I was in a bookstore. I’ve always enjoyed the company of books. It does not really matter whether I understand the language or not. For then I have to look at the stories outside novels. Their covers. The posters in the windows, the newspaper at the sales counter and listen to the the low-key conversation between shelves. Such can say a lot about the country you are visiting. Its culture, its people, its political debates and their latest diet trends.

He was nicknamed «Belaya Smert» by the Soviets. The White Death.

I think it was a book cover, but it might have been a newspaper. It was a picture of an elderly man wearing a black suit and with medals on his chest. His chin was crooked and his round eyes small as pennies, but with a sight clear as glass. Then I read his name. Simo Häyhä.
Back in Norway I read more about this Finish hero from the Winter War, that raged between Finland and the Soviet Union in 1939 – 1940. His story fascinated me. A sober farm boy, who turned into an elite marksman, facing the massive Soviet army. The numbers vary, but most sources claim that Häyhä killed more than 500 Soviet soldiers. That makes him the deadliest sniper in history. The Soviets nicknamed him The White Death. He was injured in the final days of the war, fell into a coma and woke up when it was all over. The bullet that hit him crushed his jaw and destroyed his cheek.

Häyhä used a Mosin-Nagant rifle of this kind. Just an iron sight, no telescopic stuff.

Many years later someone asked him how he became so good at shooting. «Practice» was his short, to the point, reply.
I decided that if I one day was going to write a novel, Simo Häyhä would find his way into it.

Staffan Häyhä, the antagonist from Those Who Follow, has a personality completely different from real life Simo Häyhä. Staffan is no hero. But he carries some of the same physical features. He has the same extreme determination which I believe is required when confronted by a superior enemy. Both are snipers. And the name, obviously. A badly disguised easter egg for those interested in military history.

Finnish edition of Those Who Follows – Wieniläisveljeskunta.

Top score for Kalypso

Six weeks ago the second part of the Fredrik Beier-saga was released in Norway. Now the reviews are coming in. And they are better than I dared dream.

From Fædrelandsvennen

When I had read 100 pages of this novel, I thought that the author had taken on more than he could chew. After 300 pages I was sure; the author must have to use some easy tricks to get this through. But after 470 pages, the only thing I could do was to conclude that Johnsrud was in control, all the way through, writes the regional newspaper Fædrelandsvennen, and awards Kalypso (English title As We Fall) six out of six stars.

Out of the nine national and regional Norwegian newspapers that have reviewed Kalypso, three have awarded Beier#2 six out of six stars, four have awarded it five out of six, and one (Dagbladet), four out of six. The largest daily, Aftenposten, does not give out stars, but states:

Last year’s debut Wienerbrorskapet (Those Who Follow) demonstrated that Ingar Johnsrud is master of the vast majority of tricks when it comes to muscular action prose. /…/  The depiction of the past’s shadow falling over a snow-covered pre-Christmas Oslo, from its Russian embassy to a bomb shelter in Old Town, undeniably does something to the reader’s heart rate. Johnsrud writes succinctly, in detail, and above all well within the premises of the genre.

And here’s a few more:

  • Ingar Johnsrud continues to deliver crime fiction at absolute international top level. /…/ Johnsrud showcases a literary talent of the highest order – he’s smart, precise and varied in his language. 


    Verdens Gang, Norway

  •  It isn’t often that an author succeeds in maintaining the level of suspense throughout an entire book, but Ingar Johnsrud does. As We Fall possesses an intense tension and momentum from the first till last page. /…/ Jo Nesbø and Jørn Lier Horst ought to look out for Johnsrud, who is emerging as the great star of Norwegian thriller and crime fiction literature.


    Tvedestrandsposten, Norway

  • Johnsrud plays with genres and stereotypes and succeeds in adding something new and fresh. The book is well written, the peaks in the action many and excellent, the switch between the different eras perfect, and all of it is put together with greater precision even than in the debut.


    Adresseavisen, Norway

  • The prose, which impressed also in the debut novel, is still excellent. Johnsrud writes effectively and grippingly. /…/ The plot is tied together nicely, with a set of plot threads that are gathered beautifully.


    Stavanger Aftenblad, Norway

  • There is blood, gore and body fluids, internal rivalry in the police force, classic tension between protagonist and assistant, and an intrigue much like a puzzle, just as there should be in suspense novels. And all of it is steered by the supremely clever hand of this crime fiction writer.


    Tønsbergs Blad, Norway

  •  [In Ingar Johnsrud] we have found a promising new crime fiction author. /…/ There is much to be impressed with in [As We Fall].


    Fædrelandsvennen, Norway

    Click here for more reviews in English. Or here for more in Norwegian.