Written by Antti Tuomainen, translated by David Hackston — Janne Vuori, an idealistic investigative journalist on the staff of Helsinki Today, has a thankless job and a failing marriage. These factors ensure he is easily lured into a very big story that arrives via an anonymous email tip. The country’s biggest nickel mine, touted as a boon to the economy, is not at all what it seems and represents an environmental disaster on a scale never before seen in Finnish history.
Even before you can imagine Janne getting threatened by greedy corporate bad guys, you witness from the first pages a methodical assassin picking off members of the mine’s board of trustees one-by-one. Tuomainen describes the deaths with a macabre flair that makes each kill seem like a well-synchronised ballet.
Janne’s wife Pauliina complains that he is neglecting their relationship and their three-year-old child for the sake of selfish idealism. He parries that she is a corporate sell-out, but her charge does seems to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. He sets everything aside to investigate the tip from the informant, who promises Janne even more if he shows substantial effort in his investigation.
Braving the frigid coast of the Gulf of Finland where the mine is located, Jaane is confronted by a menacing security officer. When asked about the mine, local people demonstrate a loyalty that seems tinged with fear. The sense of fear, menace and solitude is emphasised strikingly by author Antti Tuomainen. He switches us back and forth between the perspectives of both Janne, who ponders the implications of his discoveries, and the mysterious killer, who muses about the art of killing. Both of them tread through the snow, brooding. The presence of the unforgiving winter also lends a sense of psychological vulnerability that is fraught with danger, so you feel uneasy throughout.
Janne learns that another reporter named Lehtinen previously looked into the mine’s shady background before he was killed by car in Berlin. It was a hit-and-run, and the man’s notes mysteriously disappeared from his office. Jaane’s search leads him to Lehtinen’s daughter Maarit, who is mysterious, lovely, and quite fearless.
Since getting the very cold shoulder at the mine, Jaane feels like he’s being followed, and realises he may be risking his life for an exclusive. As he forgets some of his parental responsibilities back home, Pauliina is barely speaking to Janne anymore. And speaking of bad fathers and troubled relationships, Janne’s own father, who walked away 30 years ago, suddenly re-surfaces and wants to re-connect with him.
With his personal life in turmoil, he focuses instead on the professional task of interviewing a surviving mining board member and an environmental activist. Inevitably he crosses paths with the detective investigating the murders. When he publishes his findings, he receives a death threat directed at his wife and child that he cannot ignore. After considerable soul searching, he withdraws from the assignment and requests a transfer. Maybe he can resurrect his marriage and even get to know his father. This also means his job now is not finding the truth but tracking popular trends like ‘twerking’ for the social column.
And yet he can’t keep away from the story. He goes back to the mine with Maarit and another scientist to collect soil samples. The sudden violence they are subjected to then determines the trajectory of the investigation, Janne’s personal relationships, and perhaps the fate of the entire country. With a subdued yet dramatic ending, Tuomainen demonstrates again his unique brand of thriller which poses deep dilemmas delivered in sparse prose, charged with a quiet power.
The Mine is as much about human relationships as it is about crime and environmental disaster. The themes of fate, destiny and family are the stock and trade of Nordic noir, but The Mine will stand also as an excellent example of the genre’s increasing emphasis on environmental injustice in its purview of social concerns.
Tuomainen, the poet laureate of Finnish noir, writes such evocative descriptions of snow that they recall Peter Høeg’s classic Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow. If you enjoy the lyricism of Jan Costin Wagner‘s melancholy wanderers in cold climates, you should enjoy The Mine, as well as Antti Tuomainen’s previous books The Healer and Dark As My Heart.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars