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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Man Who Died

Antti Tuomainen

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To purchase The Man Who Died

Title: The Man Who Died
Author: Antti Tuomainen
Genre: Novel
Written: 2016 (Eng. 2017)
Length: 245 pages
Original in: Finnish
Availability: The Man Who Died - US
The Man Who Died - UK
The Man Who Died - Canada
Derniers mètres jusqu'au cimetière - France
Die letzten Meter bis zum Friedhof - Deutschland
  • Finnish title: Mies joka kuoli
  • Translated by David Hackston

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Our Assessment:

B : decent if a bit hectic (even beyond what the premise calls for); good fun

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Frankfurter Rundschau . 1/3/2018 Sylvia Staude
The Guardian . 24/11/2017 Laura Wilson
Helsingin Sanomat . 16/10/2016 Jukka Petäjä

  From the Reviews:
  • "Es steckt einiges an aberwitziger Action in diesem lakonischen, im finnischen Hochsommer spielenden Roman" - Sylvia Staude, Frankfurter Rundschau

  • "Told in a darkly funny, deadpan style (.....) The result is a rollercoaster read in which the farce (...) has some serious and surprisingly philosophical underpinnings." - Laura Wilson, The Guardian

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The day does not begin well for thirty-seven-year-old Jaako Kaunismaa, his doctor's diagnosis and conclusion the last thing any patient wants to hear: "There's nothing we can do". They've figured out what's wrong with Jaakko -- he's been poisoned -- and even if they don't know with what, the consequences are obvious. His organs are shot, his situation hopeless, the amount of time he has left is short -- "days; weeks at most".
       The premise of The Man Who Died isn't entirely new -- the classic film D.O.A., starring Edmond O'Brien, is probably the most famous version -- but the fatally poisoned protagonist racing against the clock to figure out who done him in plot is inherently suspenseful. The somewhat open-ended question of just how long Jaakko has cuts into some of the suspense here, but Tuomainen makes up for that by adding at least one significant additional deadline of sorts, as well as other layers of other parties watching Jaakko -- or out to get him.
       Jaakko and his wife, Taina, were laid off from their jobs in Helsinki a couple of years back, and moved to the sleepy harbor town of Hamina, becoming entrepreneurs, launching a mushroom business. There's huge demand for matsutake -- pine mushrooms -- in Japan, and the woods around Hamina are prime picking grounds, and so they launched what has turned into a very successful small business. The season is about to start, too: the machines are still idle, but preparations are underway for the year's first harvest and the processing.
       One might imagine that after Jaakko gets the bad news he would go to the police and mention that there's a murder (not quite complete yet, but underway) to investigate; Jaakko considers it, but then decides it would bog him down, a bureaucratic waste of precious time. (Somewhat surprisingly, the doctor doesn't press for the authorities to get involved either.) But the police are soon enough sniffing around some, as Jaakko's situation(s) lead to some (more or less) unintended consequences.
       As if his day wasn't already bad enough, Jaakko gets another shock to the system when he wants to share the news with the one person who will most obviously be affected: his business partner and wife. Before he has a chance to do so, he stumbles across something she'd been keeping from him; he manages to avoid revealing that he's onto her, but it fundamentally changes everything -- and puts her on the top of his short list of suspects of who might be responsible for his imminent demise.
       As if he doesn't already have enough on his plate, there's some business-competition he has to worry about, too:

     The Hamina Mushroom Company. Three men who, six months ago, appeared out of thin air.
       Passing by their offices, he decides to have a look. Conveniently, the place is deserted when he arrives. Conveniently, too, the door is unlocked -- hey, it's Finland, where they apparently don't have to worry about petty crime ... -- and so he has a chance to look around. He can't help but be impressed by their state-of-the-art facilities; they will be serious competition, even if they lack the expertise Jaakko and his wife have already accumulated. Of course, there's talent to be poached from Jaakko's business, with offers of (much) higher wages .....
       It's a problem: as one of his employees points out to Jaakko:
Only one of us is going to survive. There isn't room in this town for two mushroom exporters.
       Jaakko's visit does not go unnoticed -- there are security cameras -- and the thuggish trio behind the Hamina Mushroom Company don't take kindly to him having taken a look around; indeed, one of them is almost immediately ready to teach Jaakko a lesson .....
       Jaakko isn't sure what he's stumbled into, but there's quite a bit he has to worry about, from saving his business from the competition to saving his hide from the competition (they prefer the thuggish, personal way of settling things). Not to mention trying to figure out who poisoned him.
       So he has a lot to try to sort out, while also not being certain who he can trust much less share what he knows with. Tuomainen spins a decent thriller out of this, with considerable macabre-comic relief (mostly courtesy of the Hamina Mushroom Company-trio). If parts (even beyond the premise) are a bit far-fetched -- such as Taina arranging a weekend-getaway for Jaakko just as the season is starting for their business (she has good reason to get him out of the way, but it's hard to believe she would think he would fall for that, especially at this last minute) -- and some of the explanations rather a stretch (such as the backers of the Hamina Mushroom Company), things move along fast enough that it does make for a satisfying enough thriller-read.
       There's some mortality-philosophizing -- Jaakko reminds us that we're all going to die, his situation just being slightly more extreme -- but on the whole his decline doesn't weigh down the story too much -- in no small part because physically it mostly isn't that bad, for the duration. The resolution, too, is a bit far-fetched and conveniently stretched, but it's ultimately also reasonably satisfying. Larger-plot weaknesses are made up for with amusing smaller scenes, and if the story is a bit awkwardly constructed -- Tuomainen forces a lot into the novel -- he at least has an agreeable easy-going narrative style, giving Jaakko's voice just the right pitch of fatalism.
       A note at the start of the novel acknowledges that: "The author has taken considerable artistic licence with regard to geographical, medical, temporal and natural scientific details" and, indeed, The Man Who Died would not withstand much scrutiny, but if one is willing to make the necessary allowances it is quite good fun -- a decent little entertainment, with some enjoyable twists and scenes.

- M.A.Orthofer, 19 May 2020

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The Man Who Died: Reviews: Antti Tuomainen: Other books by Antti Tuomainen under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Finnish author Antti Tuomainen was born in 1971.

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