Book review: The Mine, by Antti Tuomainen

15 11 2016

Antti Tuomainen is a Finnish crime fiction writer and journalist who has previously worked in advertising. I’ve reviewed an earlier book of Tuomainen’s, The Healer here.

themine

In The Mine (Kaivos, 2015, translated by David Hackston), reporter Janne Vuori receives an anonymous tipoff about problems at the Suomalahti mine in northern Finland. His editor agrees it’s a story worth investigating, but when Janne visits the mine, hoping to get some answers, he is rebuffed by the mine’s security staff. The townspeople have nothing negative to say about the mine, and the official documentation surrounding the venture points to its state-of-the-art environmental credentials. It’s a success story, surely? As it transpires, though, this is rather difficult to substantiate: Janne would like to get some commentary from the mine’s directors, but two of them refuse to comment … and the other two are dead.

Emil is a hired killer who is very good at what he does … and his path is about to cross Janne’s.

The Mine further cements Tuomainen’s reputation as a creator of gritty, up-to-the-minute fiction, with every word precisely placed. The book reads (in tone, more than in subject matter or storyline) like a crazy blend of Richard Morgan’s Market Forces and Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep: the prose is wonderful, the violence spare and matter-of-fact. Tuomainen is able to worm his way so thoroughly into the heads of his protagonists that they develop a sense of life quite independent of the page. It’s apparent, too, that the book has been well-researched: the ore extraction technique mentioned, bioleaching, has indeed been trialled in Finnish mining in recent years, and has proven problematic in at least one mine (though the problems presented in The Mine do not appear to match, exactly, those that have occurred in real life, and naturally the book’s body count is fictional).

The Mine has no characters in common with The Healer: Tuomainen does not appear, yet, to have locked himself in a series, and I suspect the standalone format of each book allows him to play more freely with the characters. There is, nonetheless, a commonality of theme, in the sense that both The Mine and The Healer are grounded in environmental awareness. This isn’t, I hasten to add, anything preachy: it’s more that Tuomainen has elected to explore the scope offered by environmental degradation as a basis for crime fiction, and this does set these books apart, to some degree, from the conventional murder-mystery narrative. (I’ve mentioned previously that Tuomainen’s recourse to environmental subject matter is broadly analogous to Kati Hiekkapelto’s exploration of social justice and immigration issues in her crime fiction: these are, I think, two of the most exciting voices in Finnish crime today.)

The characterisation, and the gradually-revealed backstory, is a definite strength of the book. So too are the occasional glimpses of black humour: for example, hitman Emil describes his vocation as ‘human resources’. I’m not sure that I completely buy into the evolution of the story on an interpersonal level, but it is surprising and it is memorable and it is, ultimately, touching.

Oh, and Janne Vuori is certainly not Philip Marlowe; but if there’s a better channeling of Chandler, anywhere, than the understated scene in which The Mine‘s sequence of crimes is explicated, I haven’t read it yet.

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