Finland has been something of the poor relation when it comes to the popularity of Scandinavian crime fiction. I enjoyed Matti Joensuu’s creepy 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.