The Healer by Antti Tuomainen
Translated by Lola Rogers
I discovered Tuomainen last year when I read his latest novel The Rabbit Factor, a dark comedy thriller which I loved. I decided to go back to his first available novel in English for #NordicFINDS, (first published in 2010, translated in 2013), which in now typical translated fiction fashion I discover is his third; the first two are not available in translation.
The Healer is different to his latest book. It’s spec fiction, set in a near now where climate change is in full throttle and systems are breaking down. It’s in this setting that poet Tapani’s journalist wife Johanna goes missing and he sets out to find her. So it’s a cli-fi, spec fic, dystopian crime thriller – blending many genres into one novel. Oh and it starts three days before Christmas!
Johanna had been working on a story about ‘The Healer’, a serial killer who is systematically murdering prominent Finns deemed to have contributed towards climate change. She’d gone out on a lead with a photographer and that was the last anyone heard of them. As the novel begins, Tapani is making his way through Helsinki towards the newspaper where she worked, having to bypass the flooded metro tunnels. He watches the news on a screen as he goes:
The southern regions of Spain and Italy had officially been left to their own devices. Bangladesh, sinking into the sea, had erupted in a plague that threatened to spread to the rest of Asia. The dispute between India and China over Himalayan water supplies was driving the two countries to war. Mexican drug cartels had responded to the closing of the US-Mexico border with missile strikes on Los Angeles and San Diego. The forest fires in the Amazon had not been extinguished even by blasting new river channels to surround the blaze.
Ongoing wars or armed conflicts in the European Union: thirteen, mostly in border areas.
Estimated number of climate refugees planet-wide: 650-800 million people.
Pandemic warnings: H3N3, malaria, tuberculosis, ebola, plague.
Light piece at the end: the recently chosen Miss Finland believed that everything would be much better in the spring.
That last quip is a rarity in this novel which is justifiably serious throughout, but typical of his latest book.
Johanna’s editor, Lassi, can’t help, he’d thought she was working from home. Tapani is able to retrieve her laptop from her desk and slip it out along with a wodge of papers relating to her investigation. He heads off to see if their best friends, Ahti and Elina had heard from Johanna, and finds them ready to leave home, heading north. They’d not heard from her either. The only clue he has is the background noise in Johanna’s last phone message, it sounds like waves. He takes a taxi driven by a young African driver, Hamid to the shore, near a group of big houses, but gets beaten up by their private security guards. Hamid rescues him, and takes him to his home. After being patched up, Tapani decides it’s time to go to the police, and Chief Inspector Jaatinen, who knew Johanna agrees to see him.
Jaatinen has his hands tied, but gives Tapani some information about his suspect for the Healer – the only problem is that Pasi Tarkainen, a medical graduate is officially dead. Jaatinen believes he’s still alive, but doesn’t have the manpower to carry the investigation further. Tapani is ready to leave…
I turned to him and asked, ‘Why do you keep trying?’ […]
‘Why,’ he said. It was more a statement than a question.
His face had a look that was familiar by now, the faintest trace of a little joy – or was it annoyance?
‘There’s still a chance to do more good than harm here. And I am a policeman. I believe in what I do. Until I have evidence to the contrary.’ (p67)
Armed with a name, a connection to Jaatinen, and transport with Hamid, Tapani sets off to find his wife. What he discovers will take him deep into her past and uncover secrets that link her to the murders!
With Tapani as our narrator and amateur detective, The Healer is pure noir, but in such a well-imagined setting. The poet’s Helsinki is disintegrating before his eyes, it’s always raining, many formerly safe places are no longer, looters and vigilantes roam, vehicles are abandoned or set on fire, it’s a different city now, it drips atmosphere (literally!). I loved the three main characters, Tapani, Hamid and Jaatinen; the latter especially for being a good man. The action zips along in the book’s 246 pages, there isn’t time to pause in his search for Johanna. There are twists and surprises aplenty, and violence is never far away in this bleak dystopian city. All along we’re kept wondering if he’ll find her alive in time for Christmas… I couldn’t possibly comment.
The Healer is rather good indeed. I loved the unusual setting for a noir novel which really worked very well. I’m keen to read Tuomainen’s translated works between this one and The Rabbit Factor now – Little Siberia next.
Source: Own copy. Vintage paperback, 246 pages. BUY at Amazon UK (not available at Blackwell’s at the mo).