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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Thoughts: The Healer by Antti Toumainen

The premise of The Healer by Finnish crime writer Toumainen was what prompted me to pre-order the book on my Nook. "Ruthless climate change" has dramatically altered climes to the south of Finland, and as the novel opens, even Helsinki appears to have a limited window of sustainability due to relentless rain and terrible flooding. People of means from all over the world are fleeing to the north of Finland (and other far northern areas around the world, one imagines), which has set a grim pall over Finland's capital.

Tapani Lehtinen, a poet who appears to have no current occupation, lives in Helsinki with his wife Joanna, a journalist, whom he loves deeply. When Joanna vanishes, Tapani assumes her disappearance is linked to her journalistic preoccupation with "The Healer," a [former] environmental activist who has in recent years adopted more extreme tactics, including terrorist acts. Tapani's goal, naturally, is to find his wife, whom he is sure has fallen into the hands of those who mean her harm.

Before I mention the aspects of the novel that hindered my enjoyment, it's important to note that the book is a mere 224 pages in hardcover. And before rattling off what I view as shortcomings, I will say that the rising action leading to the climax and the climax itself were very well constructed and allowed me to be "there," with the action every step of the way.

Yet most of the novel was tedious. Why is this so? I was very disappointed by the lack of characterization of Tapani. For gosh sake, he's a poet. But he doesn't appear to view the world as a poet, there aren't references to his poetic inner world, and, as a result, I found it impossible to believe in him as a character. His love for his wife is made clear, that's true, but nothing else. Nothing. Frustrating. Nor is there development of any other character.

Plot. Not  particularly engaging until the plot starts heading toward the climax.

Setting. Oh, dear, so much more could have been done here. We're at the end of the world--in the midst of this dystopia--please tell us more than a very wee bit about it. This aspect was very much underplayed. A richer setting would have enhanced the mood and atmosphere. Not only that, The Healer takes place within the two days before Christmas. But there are startling few references to the holiday, and, actually, none enter into the actual plot at all, except for maybe one red star toward the end of the climactic action. So why set it at Christmas? I am curious.

This is silly, and please forgive me, but in my wild imaginings I would love to rewrite this book. Its skeletal frame doesn't bear weight, and I'd love to give it a whack. But, you know what? Despite my disappointment, I will pick up the next Toumainen novel to see where he goes next. Maybe The Healer's climax was a promise of better crime fiction to come. The Healer is Toumainen's third novel, but his first to be published in English. It was awarded The Clue Award for the "Best Finnish Crime Novel" of 2011.

6 comments:

  1. oh dear I have this on my tbr pile and felt it was one I maybe wouldn't get ,thanks for comfirming my thoughts ,all the best stu

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    1. Stu,
      I hope I haven't shaken you off a book you might enjoy. I'm not sorry I read it, exactly, but I was disappointed.

      Best,
      Judith

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  2. Oh dear. I think I enjoyed this book more than you Judith. Sorry that it was a disappointment....

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    1. Sarah,
      I'm so glad you enjoyed this book! Sometimes I wonder if I'm being too contrary, really. I do appreciate and enjoy all of your suggestions and your entire blog!

      Judith

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  3. How aggravating! A disappointing book! But good, since it made you think through how you would write it differently, so maybe it was instructive.

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    1. That's an interesting thought. I think it was instructive, in a way. And you know, I wasn't sorry I read it, which is interesting, because I thought the events leading up to the climax were so well handled and paced.
      Oh, how I wish I had more time and mental space to read!

      Best to you,
      Judith

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