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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Healer

Antti Tuomainen

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To purchase The Healer

Title: The Healer
Author: Antti Tuomainen
Genre: Novel
Written: 2010 (Eng. 2013)
Length: 211 pages
Original in: Finnish
Availability: The Healer - US
The Healer - UK
The Healer - Canada
La dernière pluie - France
Der Heiler - Deutschland
Il guaritore - Italia
El sanador - España
  • Finnish title: Parantaja
  • Translated by Lola Rogers

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Our Assessment:

B : very good on atmosphere, but disappointing as a mystery/thriller

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Helsingin Sanomat . 15/12/2010 Avola Pertti
The Independent . 19/3/2013 Barry Forshaw

  From the Reviews:
  • "As rendered in this sensitive translation from the Finnish by Lola Rogers, the book's language is as important as the tension generated by the narrative. (...) A crime novel, yes -- but it's the surefooted rendition of rain-washed urban decay that will stay in the mind of most readers." - Barry Forshaw, The Independent

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 Healer is set in a near-future Finland, in a world battered by (predictable) catastrophes; a quick run-down of the situation at the beginning of the novel reports pandemic warnings for H3N3, malaria, tuberculosis, Ebola, and the good old plague, on-going armed conflicts in thirteen areas of the European Union alone, and an estimated 650-800 million climate refugees planet-wide. Several neighborhoods in Helsinki, where the story is set, are suffering continual flooding, rendering them more or less uninhabitable; many of those who can are making their way farther north -- while refugees fill in the vacated spaces, an improvement over the places they have fled. The novel is also very soggy: most of the action happens with a short period, but still: it rains a lot (and that in deepest December, shortly before Christmas -- when, in earlier years, it might at least have been snow).
       The novel is narrated by Tapani Lehtinen -- a poet. As in: that's apparently all he does, his would-be fulltime job -- despite the fact that even when things were looking better in the world, not all that long ago, his success seems to have been ... limited:

I managed to publish three collections before all this started. They sold about two hundred copies each, including library sales. They disappeared a long time ago.
       Presumably, he was helpfully state-subsidized in his work for a while, but the question of financial security in these precarious times is left way too open here; sure, his wife of ten years is a successful newspaper journalist -- but it doesn't sound like a single-income household could survive as comfortably (or have built up the savings) as they have in these times.
       In any case, there's not much time for poetry-writing for Tapani now: he's frantic because he hasn't heard from his wife for more than a day and she seems to have disappeared; the novel chronicles his frantic search for her.
       Johanna is an intrepid investigative reporter; unsurprisingly, Tapani figures her disappearance might have something to do with the story she is working on -- especially when he learns from her editor what it is: she's been looking into 'the Healer' -- indeed, she's even gotten e-mails from him, explaining his actions. The Healer has been on a killing spree -- "There were now nine executives and politicians who'd been killed altogether, along with their families". All for a good (or at least righteous) cause, he's at pains to claim:
He said he did it on behalf of ordinary people, to avenge them, and said he was the last voice of truth in a world headed toward destruction -- a healer for a sick planet.
       The logic seems a bit confused -- vengeance is all well and good, but would not seem to contribute in any way to an actual betterment of current conditions -- but, hey, at least there's a serial killer on the loose.
       The police is under-manned and barely able to look into most of the crimes that are being committed -- indeed, much local safety is now handled by the private security firms that have sprung up all over, protection rackets that are one of the few booming businesses in these times. Given the police's own lack of resources and manpower, chief inspector of the violent crimes unit Harri Jaatinen is more easily convinced to allow Tapani to sniff around a bit -- and even provides him with some inside information on the Healer and his crimes. The most significant of these is that they have some DNA evidence tying one Pasi Tarkiainen to the crimes. One problem, however:
     The man in question died in the flu epidemic five years ago.
       Tapani is sure this Pasi is the key to finding Johanna -- so now he's hunting a phantom. And, while Pasi seems to have vanished from the face of the earth five years earlier -- except for those DNA traces he's recently left behind -- Tapani finds, when he begins digging into the man's past, that there are connections to Johanna, from before the time when Tapani knew her. Already then, Pasi was a very engaged environmental activist -- and he certainly seems to have continued down that road.
       A taxi driver named Hamid, a refugee who has been in Finland for just six months, becomes Tapani's regular driver if not outright sidekick (though he conveniently steps up/in when Tapani gets in over his head), and much of the novel sees Tapani crisscrossing Helsinki in order to speak with people and follow up on clues. The more he digs, the more connections he finds to Pasi. And though the fact there must be some significance to the connections seems obvious, not everyone he talks to agrees; a close friend of his and Johanna's -- who knows more than she's long willing to let on -- argues: "You're not going to find Johanna by digging up things that happened a hundred years ago". Except, of course, that Tapani is looking into the far more recent past .....
       As a mystery, The Healer is a dud. The idea of the Healer and his crusade has some potential, but Tuomainen doesn't do much with it, while the events of the past that have some bearing on the present largely remain far too fuzzy; one gets practically no sense of what these characters were like back then. The conclusion does offer by-the-book B-thriller show-downs, but isn't particularly satisfying either.
       Still, Tuomainen does offer some decent entertainment along the way -- and some solid atmospheric writing. Atmosphere is important here, and his poet-narrator offers a good impression of this Helsinki (and this world) on the brink. Climate collapse and the spread of disease isn't front and center here, but it's omnipresent; Tuomainen nicely presents his characters trying to maintain what holds they still have, continuing as best they can, despite the fact that the cracks are widening, the rot encroaching from all sides. (And, boy, is there a lot of rot, of all kinds -- moral and physical.)
       There are some decent exchanges, too, including one Tapani has with his old girlfriend (who, naturally, also knew Pasi back in the day ...):
     "Have you ever thought about what it would have been like if things had been different ?" she asked, taking me completely by surprise. I shrugged.
     "Different how ?" I asked. "Between us, or in general ?"
     "In all ways," she said. "Completely different. If everything had had a happy ending."
     I looked at her. Was I understanding her correctly ? Was she doubting the choices she'd made ? If she was, then this was a Laura I'd never met before.
     "I don't know," I said. "Maybe this is the happy ending."
       There's enough here, beyond the basic plot, to make The Healer a decent fast read, but it's surprising to see how successful this work was. It was Tuomainen's break-out novel -- "it is now being translated into twenty-six languages", the back-flap copy on my US hardcover edition notes -- but his work has definitely gotten better since.

- M.A.Orthofer, 2 December 2020

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The Healer: 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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