The Healer

healerWritten by Antti Tuomainen, translated by Lola Rogers — Tapani Lehtinen isn’t the kind of character you’d expect to solve a mystery. He’s not a resilient detective, he has no martial arts training or outstanding computer skills. And, even though he’s a poet, he doesn’t have a way with words when he confronts the bad guys. But when his wife Johanna goes missing, he resolves to find her. She’s a reporter working on a story about a new serial killer in Helsinki.

Why can’t he go to the police? Well, this isn’t the polite, orderly and sophisticated Helsinki of today. It’s Helsinki in the near future. The late December snow that would normally swirl around its townhouses and apartment blocks has turned to driving rain. The melting of the polar ice has caused the Baltic to rise up, flooding the subway system. The water supply is contaminated, several strains of pestilence have ravaged the population, and the rich are fleeing north to live in new towns and villages run by private security firms. Meanwhile, the poor are left to fight it out with immigrants arriving from countries to the south, where droughts, wars and unbearable heat have crushed civil society.

Johanna is gone and a killer who calls himself The Healer might well be responsible for this. The identity of this man is a mystery, but he’s murdered several families in different parts of the city and it doesn’t look like he’s going to stop any time soon. Tapani speaks to Johanna’s shifty editor at the city’s newspaper, and to her friends, and tracks the last places her mobile phone was used at, gathering clues. A private security company might be involved. There are lots of these in the new Helsinki and they don’t always have their clients’ safety at heart. It also appears as if there’s a link between The Healer and Johanna’s life before Tapani married her.

An overworked police detective called Jaatinen eventually agrees to help, but Tapani himself must still do most of the legwork himself, and he’s aided on his jaunts around the city by immigrant taxi driver Hamid. Things go from bad to worse when the photographer Johanna was working with is reported dead. Has The Healer killed her as well?

I’d recommend you grab this book to find out. As a crime story, set in a society torn asunder by climate change, it’s an intriguing read. But what makes it so haunting, on top of that, is Antti Tuomainen’s poetic rendering of the city, which has been well translated by Lola Rogers. Once gritty and frozen, it’s now damp and dreary, rainwater washing away both its colour and its will. While Tapani is driven to find his wife, raw and instinctive survival is what motivates many of the characters around him. Others, like Jaatinen, have simply given up, emotionally anyway. There’s an existential vibe to this book and it may remind you of Eastern European fiction – philosophical, and ever so slightly detached, it’s certainly not typical Scandinavian crime fiction.

Moments in Tapani’s tense and anguished struggle are captured in high definition but low volume language. He tells us what it’s really like to be beaten with a baseball bat, to creep into a hiding place and wait for the killer, and to find a murdered child for the first time. It has an unnerving, ambiguous ending as well. The Healer is out 7 February.

Harvill Secker
Print/Kindle/iBook
£8.99

CFL Rating: 5 Stars

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