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Tuomainen, Antti - 'The Healer' (translated by Lola Rogers)
Paperback: 256 pages (Feb. 2014) Publisher: Vintage ISBN: 0099569574

I felt the rain, first softly on my face, a moment later in swift, freezing drops that slid down into my collar. I looked at the dark, rain-soaked street and then glanced around - I didn't see anything that screamed mass murderer, or missing wife.

Helsinki. Three days before Christmas.
Tapani Lehtinen rides the bus through the sodden streets. There are cook fires burning in the flooded districts. The homeless are sleeping under plastic shelters in front of the railway station. Burnt out buildings. Skinhead gangs. Tapani reaches the building which houses Finland's lone surviving newspaper. He eventually makes it in to the cold-eyed receptionist - an ex-soldier with her gun at her side - and asks to see the editor, his wife's boss.
Seated opposite him, Tapani explains that he cannot reach his wife; that it is 24 hours since she phoned to say that she was out with one of the paper's photographers and that the editor must understand that this never happens. Every day Tapani and Johanna speak to or text each other. No matter what. What story is she working on?
The editor replies: "The Healer". And Tapani flinches. The serial killer. A murderer of entire families. He claims that his victims, CEOs and politicians, are responsible for the world's disastrous climate change. This killer is emailing his wife Johanna. Tapani searches Johanna's office and desk. He pockets her notes and returns home where he checks the files on her computer. She has tracked the pattern of the murders. They run methodically through the city: east-west, then north-south. The Healer's emails to his wife grow darker with each killing - and more personal.
Lehtinen gets a taxi to the home of friends Elina and Ahti. The taxi driver is a young North African. Hamid. One of the many refugees from the south - from countries being made uninhabitable by drought, fire and rising seas. In a world where the climate is changing and the Arctic melting, those who can afford to are moving further north - to Canada and Scandinavian Lapland - as the streets of their coastal towns flood. In turn their abandoned homes are inhabited by the displaced immigrants from the ruined southern lands and cities. Elina and Ahti break the news to Tapani that they too are heading North. It is their only hope. Their home is unsaleable and they no longer have jobs. No money either. Tapani offers them money. What can they give him in return? Tapani asks Ahti if he still has his guns.

It is a dystopian future brought about by climate change: with Finnish social structure crumbling; people homeless, jobless, and on the move; violence both casual and intended everywhere. The police are underfunded and understaffed and the rich maintain their homes with private security firms whose brutal patrols rule the streets. Tapani knows that the police will or can do very little to find Johanna. If anyone finds her, it has to be him. But as Tapani uncovers more about the killer she was tracking, he also uncovers more about Johanna's life before their marriage. It is a past he never shared with her.

For fans of Nordic Noir with criminal roots in society, THE HEALER moves that society into a brilliantly imagined, flooded, future. This is not a sci-fi story about a cataclysmic event. It is a crime story set within the decline and disintegration brought about by climate change. It is also a love story. A story about a man who has faith in his and his wife's mutual love. And the lengths that he will go in order to find her.

Finnish writer Antti Tuomainen has published two crime novels prior to THE HEALER. And has published another since. (I hope someone does some retrospective translation.) His favourite writing advice comes from American crime writer Lawrence Block: "write what you want and don't expect anything." And how else can you come up with the notion of "dystopian climate-change crime fiction/love story"? Translated convincingly by Seattle-based Lola Rogers (who has translated a broad range of Finnish writing) THE HEALER is gripping, violent, suspenseful, vividly imagined and beautifully written. It is also moving. A novel around a crime around a love story set in a frightening future world. If you can cope with the idea of such a book (and I think it may be the first in this category) you must read THE HEALER. Because I love this book. And I really want the chance to read more Tuomainen.

Read another review of THE HEALER.

Lynn Harvey, England
April 2014

Lynn blogs at Little Grey Doll.

More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 12/04/2014 21:20