In the High Peaks

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.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Back from Lake Placid and to Work--Toumainen, Anyone?

I had three full days in Lake Placid, home of the 1932 and 1980 Olympics, and the premier vacation destination area within the six-million-acre Adirondack Park in northern New York State. When I set out on Tuesday, I had no idea what my exhausted mind and body would decide to do. I gave myself permission to do whatever felt right. As it turned out, I found I was drawn to hiking and exploring (and bushwhacking a bit) in the High Peaks region of the Adirondacks, as opposed to flopping down with lots of books all day, which was what I had expected I would want to do.

When I go on my annual solo jaunt to Lake Placid, I never know what I will feel like doing, so I bring loads of books, my current writing project stuff, all my hiking and outdoors gear, and see where my spirit takes me. Maybe because my body desperately needed the exercise tune-up, I spent hours and hours walking and hiking, and now at last, I've found I'm more at peace with myself and am back to good bushwhacking shape. Two of the three nights I slept 11 hours! 

Of course I did read in the late afternoons and evenings. I chose the recently released Finnish novel The Healer by Antti Toumainen, and at this point I have just 40 pages to go. Finishing might seem to be no problem, but I've had my summer course to prepare (two 3.5 hour classes per week!) and a new-to- me YA award-winner to read by Walter Dean Myers.  Monster won the Michael Printz Award, which is the American Library Association's YA equivalent to the John Newbery Medal.

I would love to post some of my photos from my climb up Mount Jo. The summit affords more than 180-degree views of some of the grandest High Peaks. I will, when I have time to get them downloaded. School tomorrow!

Friday, May 10, 2013

When Life Is Upside Down...

Keep grading exams and late papers! But what happened to my reading time I was drooling for this weekend? Well, the college registrar forgot to inform English instructors at the satellite campus that after giving exams today, final grades for the semester must be in by Monday.  And this, a weekend with a holiday, with no advance warning, and in opposition to tradition. My blood is gathering steam for a royal boil.

Now for the meat course. Books on tap for me:
1. I know for certain you won't believe this, but I STILL have a hundred pages to go in Midwinter Blood by Mons Kallentoft. I really, really like the book very much, but because I'm so tired every night, I fall asleep as soon as I'm in a comfy position in bed. It's called the end-of-the-semester sleeping pill. It's more like anesthesia.

2. Yay! Yay! Hooray! Oh, gosh. Oops. Just checked my Nook. I thought The Healer by Antti Tuomainen would be on my Nook today, but now it says it won't be delivered until the 14th of May. I can't wait to dig into this novel because of the post-apocalyptic, "ruthless climate change" environmental disaster backdrop. I'm also keen to read a crime novel by a truly Finnish writer.

3. To the Lake District! That's where I'm headed with The Frozen Shroud by Martin Edwards. It was inexpensive on the Nook ($6.99), and the good reviews about Edwards and this particular novel pushed me to buy it.
Have you read Martin Edwards?

Thursday, May 2, 2013

My Time Off Has Vanished!

I must forget all that time off I thought I had in May. Gone! Vanished! Vamoosh!

Since February the college has changed the dates of the Summer I session, but I didn't know until, by happenstance, I heard the current dates from a chemistry professor. I thought she was crazy, but no--I'm the dumb one. I now get only one week off. During that time I am going on a solo writing/reading/hiking retreat to Lake Placid. Three nights at a much-reduced cost. I did this last year in late June and it was so rejuvenating. So, again!

The Silver Lining: This academic schedule change means that I will not be teaching during all of July and August. I understand I will likely be leading occasional nature investigations at Garnet Hill Lodge during late July and August, but that's it! Two months to read! And two months to work on my writing/book projects!  I will need a trip to Boston during that time to visit family, but that's it for travel.

How cool--two entire months to READ during the hottest part of the year when outdoor activities are difficult! Can you imagine? I'm so psyched! I know, I'm overdoing my enthusiasm and exclamation points.

I want to make a list of the books I want to read during those two months. That will be fun. Nordic Noir, yes. Barbara Kingsolver's Flight Behavior, Ian McEwan's latest, and more. A more complete list will be forthcoming.

Do let me know about your summer reading plans. OR, are you too busy to read in the summertime? Do report!