Today I’m sharing my thoughts on The Healer by Antti Tuomainen. I’ve loved reading the author’s latest books so this year thought that I would take a look back at some of his older titles that had been translated into English. Having read this one, I’m really glad I did. Here’s what it’s all about:
About the Book
It’s two days before Christmas and Helsinki is battling ruthless climate catastrophe: subway tunnels are flooded; the streets are full of abandoned vehicles; the social order is crumbling and private security firms have undermined the police force. Tapani Lehtinen, a struggling poet, is among the few still willing to live in the city.
When Tapani’s journalist wife Johanna goes missing, he embarks on a frantic hunt for her. Johanna’s disappearance seems to be connected to a story she was researching about a serial killer known as ‘The Healer’. Determined to find Johanna, Tapani’s search leads him to uncover secrets from her past: secrets that connect her to the very murders she was investigating…
Wow. This book. It is short, it is quick but blimey does it resonate. Although written in 2011 and published in 2014, this could honestly have been written last week that is how relevant and pertinent it still feels. Although at the time this would have been viewed as dystopian, maybe even speculative fiction, right now, with the present pressure on the globe of climate change, unrest and. the global Covid pandemic, I’m not sure that even Mystic Meg could have been closer to the mark in terms of the plotting of this book. It made it for sometimes uncomfortable reading, but ultimately felt a very believable tale and one which is perhaps too close for comfort.
In a world that is suffering following a series of environmental disasters (think floods, fires, tsunamis …) and a flu pandemic which has devastated the global population (yep – very close to home), everything and everywhere is in disarray. Cities are being deserted and economies are collapsing and, amongst it all, one man, Tapani Lehtinen, is searching for his wife, Johanna. She is a journalist who has gone in search of a killer, little knowing the impact that it will have on both of their lives.
Whilst the serial killer story is an intriguing one, It is only a part of what is really in play here. This is a mystery that leads Tapani and readers to navigate not only the rising waters of Helsinki’s streets but the murky waters of Johanna’s past, halted at every turn by deception and lies and leaving us all wondering who we can trust. There is a real sense of urgency to the book, a pace drive by not only the environmental factors, but also that sense of trepidation that infuses every page and the sense that something bad is bound to happen. Tapani is a fascinating character, not overbearing but decidedly resolute and the way in which he engages with Chief Inspector Jaatinen speaks to the determination of both men to do the right thing in the face of overwhelming odds.
More striking perhaps than even the serial killer thread and Tapani’s missing wife, is the way in which the city of Helsinki and the ongoing impact of environmental disasters is painted with dark, atmospheric but ultimately stark clarity. Given the global events of the past couple of years, floods, natural bushfires and the rapid melting of the polar ice caps, the story stands as a grim reflection of what could still come to pass if the world does not change its behaviours. There is evidence it may already be too late, and that is a scenario that rings true in this novel, a story where the affluent may live better, but not necessarily safer lives and even they are finding that money cannot really guarantee a future. The environment plays a key role in the way in which the narrative unfolds, making this a truly compelling and thought provoking read.
If you have been heavily impacted by the pandemic, then you may wish to read with caution as whilst this is not about a pandemic, there are elements that will seem like a very grim reality. If you are able to look beyond that to the beauty of the author’s prose, the way in which he skilfully drafts a tale that will both enthrall and enrage, and will definitely give you cause to think about our willingness to recognise in ourselves a touch of antipathy to things that do not immediately affect us, then this is a book I highly recommend. I haven’t done it justice, I know, so I will just say – read the book, You won’t regret it.
About the Author
Finnish Antti Tuomainen (b. 1971) was an award-winning copywriter when he made his literary debut in 2007 as a suspense author. The critically acclaimed My Brother’s Keeper was published two years later. In 2011 Tuomainen’s third novel, The Healer, was awarded the Clue Award for ‘Best Finnish Crime Novel of 2011’ and was shortlisted for the Glass Key Award. The Finnish press labelled The Healer, the story of a writer desperately searching for his missing wife in a post-apocalyptic Helsinki ‘unputdownable’. Two years later in 2013 they crowned Tuomainen ‘The King of Helsinki Noir’ when Dark as My Heart was published. With a piercing and evocative style, Tuomainen is one of the first to challenge the Scandinavian crime genre formula.