Source: Review copy Publication: Orenda Books on 10th October 2017
A successful entrepreneur in the mushroom industry, Jaakko Kaunismaa is a man in his prime. At just 37 years of age, he is shocked when his doctor tells him that he’s dying. What is more, the cause is discovered to be prolonged exposure to toxins; in other words, someone has slowly but surely been poisoning him.
Determined to find out who wants him dead, Jaakko embarks on a suspenseful rollercoaster journey full of unusual characters, bizarre situations and unexpected twists.
With a nod to Fargo and the best elements of the Scandinavian noir tradition, The Man Who Died is a page-turning thriller brimming with the blackest comedy surrounding life and death, and love and betrayal, marking a stunning new departure for the King of Helsinki Noir.
You get a small sense of what The Man Who Died is going to be like by reading the disclaimer at the front which states ‘The author has taken considerable artistic licence with regard to geographical, medical, temporal and natural scientific details. In all other respects this story is factually correct.’
This book is first and foremost, very funny. All the way through it provokes wide smiles, wry smiles and some laugh out loud moments – there’s a particularly good moment when our protagonist Jaakko bonds with a hotel receptionist over a printer.
Antti, who is himself quite a smiley chap, really pulls out all the stops here to make The Man Who Died a witty, irreverent and beautifully comic crime thriller set in the mushroom industry in Finland.
From the first page I knew I was hooked and I loved every minute of it. Tuomainen writes so brilliantly and utterly without pomposity so that his biting, black wit sits very well on top of his rather bewildered dying protagonist.
This book is about Jaakko Mikael Kaunismaa, a middle- aged mushroom farmer in rural Finland who finds out one day that the stomach condition he thought he had is in fact a symptom of the fact that over a considerable period he has slowly been poisoned and is now irretrievably dying.
Whilst being a great read and very funny, there is also a classic absurdity to the tale. Jaakko, having heard that his condition is incurable, decides that his only option is to establish who can have done this to him. He wants to think about what it means to be dying, but in fact his mind keeps slipping over to more mundane matters, like shopping lists and how to take his business to the next level.
So he sets out to unmask the perpetrators and what he learns causes him to re-evaluate both his closest relationships and his business.
I can absolutely see why the blurb references the Coen Brothers Fargo; there’s a spice and a bite in Tuomainen’s writing style that makes the bizarre and absurd events feel like they make perfect sense when you are reading them.
I’m not going to reprise the plot, because all you need to know is that this is a terrific read and a literary bobby dazzler.
I’d also pay tribute to the translator, David Hackston. Satirical comedy is really difficult to nuance in translation, and throughout this book what I heard was Antti’s voice coming through, which is what every translation should strive to achieve for the author, and this one succeeds in spades.
Honestly, buy it, read it, give it to people you like. It’s fantastic.
About Antti Tuomainen
Finnish Antti Tuomainen (b. 1971) was an award-winning copywriter when he made his
literary debut in 2007 as a suspense author. The critically acclaimed My Brother’s Keeper
was published two years later. In 2011 Tuomainen’s third novel, The Healer, was awarded the Clue Award for ‘Best Finnish Crime Novel of 2011’ and was shortlisted for the Glass Key Award.
The Finnish press labelled The Healer – the story of a writer desperately searching for his missing wife in a post-apocalyptic Helsinki – ‘unputdownable’. Two years later in 2013 they crowned Tuomainen ‘The King of Helsinki Noir’ when Dark as My Heart was published.
The Mine, published in 2016, was an international bestseller. All of his books have been
optioned for TV/film. With his piercing and evocative style, Tuomainen is one of the first to challenge the Scandinavian crime genre formula, and The Man Who Died sees him at his literary best.
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