The Healer by Antti Tuomainen
Henry Holt and Company, ISBN 978-0805095548
May 14, 2013, 224 pages
Which was worse—complete certainty that the worst had happened, or this fear, building up moment by moment? Sudden collapse, or slow, crumbling disintegration?
I lurched with the force of a swerve that shook me out of my wandering thoughts, and looked up.
Yellow-black flames from a wrecked truck lashed the pillar of the pedestrian bridge at the Sörnäinen shore road. The truck looked broken in the middle, embracing the pillar like a pleading lover. Not one of the passing cars slowed down, let alone stopped. They moved to the outside lane as they flew by, passing the burning wreck at the greatest possible distance.
So did the bus I was sitting in.
Scandinavian mysteries have a reputation for being a bit bleak, but this one adds an element that takes it to a whole new level.
It is set in Helsinki in the near future, a city falling apart, in a world falling apart.
We are in the midst of a global ecological collapse, constant rain and flooding, food and drinking water become more scarce as each day goes by, electric and Internet unreliable, hundreds of millions of people try to move north to places they feel might be livable for a bit longer. Bangladesh has sunk into the ocean, unstoppable fires are consuming the rain forests of the Amazon, the US has been attacked by missiles from Mexican drug lords, the European countries that are left are at war. Things like police protection have become impossible, as most cops have left their jobs, medical care almost impossible to get, as those doctors left try to deal with widespread epidemics of TB, Ebola and the plague.
Well, that is unless you are very rich. Then you hire one of the many private security companies to protect you and your family and to buy the scare resources.
But it seems even a great deal of money can not offer total protection. The city has a killer, a serial killer, who calls himself The Healer. He is killing whole families of people he feels are guilty for creating the situation the world is in and the police seem helpless to stop him. Detectives are few, things like DNA testing or fingerprints almost impossible to get done.
Just one more terrible thing Tapani Lehtinen can do nothing about ...until his wife Joanna disappears. She is an investigative report, a dying breed, as is the newspaper she works for. But she is one of the few who feels a sense of duty, to try and do good. Tapani is a poet who still writes poetry every day that no one will read, as his wife is a writer after a story that no one really cares about. She never came home from work days ago and does not answer her phone. As her husband tries to find her, he discovers that she seems to have had a lead on the Healer and her last act may have been to meet with someone who had information on him. He also finds out a number of other things about the people in his life that in less shocking times might be shocking. Now, not so much.
Some things like greed and love, revenge and hatred, good and evil persist, regardless of what is going on in the world. Even if society is collapsing around you, human nature remains human nature.
OK, I will warn you, this is a dark book, in both its plot and setting. I think the sun appears for only one day in the whole story. It is a dark mystery set in a dark place.
But...except for one little issue, I really enjoyed this book. So let's get the issue out of the way. At times it can get a little preachy, a bit simplistic about the whole climate change issue. I think we get the author's point on that. I could do without the lecture.
Now, on to the good! Tapani is a great character, very likable, very smart and willing to go to any lengths to find his wife. Several of the minor characters, like a sympathetic police detective and a life saving immigrant cab driver are excellent as well. The plot, the actual mystery, is good, even if with a point or two that stretches believability. The writing is beautiful, odd to say about a story set in such a harsh world, with the translator, Lola Rogers, doing a fine job.
But I dare say, what you will remember about this book when you finish it will be that world the author creates, a world literally rotting. And the question it raises..what makes some people go on when faced with a hopeless situation. Can love, even a love as strong as Tapani's make a difference? Are they the good, the brave, doing the right thing, or are they fools? You decide, right until the very last page and it shocking ending.