Review: Antti Tuomainen – The Healer

Finland has been something of the poor relation when it comes to the popularity of Scandinavian crime fiction. I enjoyed Matti Joensuu’s the-healercreepy Priest of Evil  and the novels of German writer Jan Costin Wagner, whose series is set in Finland. However, now we have The Healer by Antti Tuomainen, first published in 2010 which won the award for the Best Finnish Crime Novel of the Year. Its recent translation into English hopefully marks a trend for more books from Finland to appear in the UK.

In the run-up to Christmas, Tapani Lehtinen, a minor poet is searching for his journalist wife Johanna who has suddenly disappeared. The only clue to her whereabouts was a final telephone call as she attempted to track down information about a serial killer known as ‘The Healer’. Convinced that his wife has come to harm, Tapani visits her employer and friends to try to unearth the story that Johanna was working on. But Helsinki is slowly disintegrating in the midst of a climate catastrophe, residents are fleeing for the north of the country and the police are disinterested in helping Tapani find his wife.

This is the second book I’ve read featuring murder in a pre-apocalyptic setting. Ben H Winter’s The Last Policeman was one of my favourite crime reads of 2012 and it’s interesting how much tension you can get into a murder plot as society implodes on itself. Finalnd, and Helsinki in particular, seems ideally placed to feature a disintegrating community. The north of the country is portrayed as the utopia that city dwellers are trying to reach, allowing crime and disorder to fill the void in Helsinki.

The plot is interesting but nothing happens very fast. Tapani embarks on a lonely search for his wife, where no-one seems much interested in helping him out, not even close friends. He is sustained by the love that he feels for her, even when it comes under threat from the knowledge he discovers in relation to her past. But given that the action happens over a couple of days, the narrative seems both filled with events and yet nothing much happens.

The writing though is beautiful, the sparseness of the prose reflecting both the landscape and Tapani’s life as a poet. Ultimately the setting and writing were more successful that the plotting but it did feel like I was reading something different from the norm, which is always welcome.

The book has also been reviewed by Karen at Eurocrime who passed on her copy of the book to me. The translation was by Lola Rogers.

27 thoughts on “Review: Antti Tuomainen – The Healer

  1. Margot Kinberg

    Sarah – Thanks for an excellent review as ever. I too like to read something different to the norm from time to time, and this sounds like a different kind of crime novel. The thing that appeals to me about this one is the focus on that husband/wife relationship. I think it takes talent to really portray (without getting maudlin about it) the sense of loss and fear and everything else one might feel if one’s beloved went missing. I need to read more Finnish crime fiction and this one seems a good one.


  2. An interesting review. You have alerted me to the fact that I have no Finnish mysteries in my TBR piles. I thought for sure I did, but there just don’t appear to be that many that are translated. So I will be on the lookout for this book or one by Matti Joensuu, although the description “creepy” makes me wonder.


  3. Thanks for this great review, Sarah. I really enjoyed The Last Policeman and will definitely try this one out at some point to compare and contrast. Like you, I’d love to see more Finnish crime fiction in translation. There are some very interesting writers about…


    1. I hadn’t realised you read ‘The Last Policeman’ Mrs P. It was an unusual book. The concept is similar with ‘The Healer’ but the execution entirely different.


  4. Your review makes The Healer sound very appealing though I have an aversion to apocalyptic books (I think I’m still scarred from reading The Road a few years ago). I think I may try this one out sometime, though!


  5. Excellent review Sarah. I’m afraid that the setting in a distant future, if my information is correct, is not exactly my cup of tea, even if it is extremely well written. But I might be wrong.


    1. I’d say it was the near future Jose. Basically as we are now but with a sudden climate catastrophe. It’s not intrusive so I don’t think it would spoil your read.


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  7. I grabbed this from the library based on your review and started it late last night solely because it looked to be the shortest book on my “read immediately” pile. I am about half way through already and can’t believe how beautiful the writing is in translation…that must surely be doubly hard. It’s a treat to read, despite its overall gloomy picture. Thanks for the recommendation.


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