Book review: The Healer, by Antti Tuomainen

1 07 2016

This is more Scandicrime, but with the difference that this one, I’d argue, is also SF. It hails not from the streets of Stockholm, but from Helsinki. Antti Tuomainen is a poet, novelist, and former advertising copywriter; The Healer (Parantaja, 2010, translated by Lola Rogers) is his third novel, although I suspect it may have been the first translated. It won a Best Finnish Crime Novel of the Year award, and was shortlisted for the ‘Glass Key’ Best Scandinavian Crime Novel in 2012.


Tapani Lehtinen, The Healer‘s protagonist, is also a poet, but nothing of his has seen publication recently: the world has more pressing problems. Climate catastrophe has kicked in, and although there is still some semblance of civilisation left within a city such as Helsinki—public transport (unreliable), a police force (after a fashion), commerce (in some districts, stores haven’t yet closed despite the looting)—it’s no secret that Finland’s capital, like pretty much everywhere else, is buckling under the strain, and about to go under. But such existential concerns are of little consequence to Tapani right now, because he has a much more pressing and personal worry: his wife Johanna, a well-regarded journalist with the city’s last newspaper, has gone missing. When Tapani learns that the story on which Johanna was working concerned The Healer, a ruthless serial killer / eco-vigilante responsible for the brutal deaths of several wealthy and powerful residents (and their families), he fears the worst. And when the chief of police expresses the view that his depleted force is unable to devote any manpower to investigating Johanna’s disappearance, Tapani realises that it’s going to fall to him to track down his wife and her murderous captor. But is Johanna as innocent as he has supposed? There are, it appears, some unpleasant truths to be uncovered.

The Healer is a comparatively short novel—I’d estimate no more than about sixty thousand words—and it tells its tale with a plain economy; with, I should say, a noirish and sparse elegance. Any book which includes within its first substantial section of dialogue the sentence ‘He looked at me again, from someplace far away where clueless idiots like me aren’t aloud to go’ not only has an engaging narrator, but also a refreshing mordancy about it. And within its slight frame it manages to combine the personae of an understated work of near-future SF, a dystopian crime story, an intelligent and evenhanded piece of commentary on the predicament in which we might soon find ourselves, and a literary novel dealing with the themes of love, loss, and despair. It’s a quite beautiful piece of work, with several memorable and complicated characters, a pervasive and precarious grittiness, and an abundance of deftly-applied tension. I’m not usually drawn to dystopias, but this one had me in its thrall.




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