Review published on December 3, 2017.
In recent years, Nordic Noir has been the irrepressible buzz phrase in crime fiction. The bookshelves heave with crime thrillers set in some frozen locale. I must be one of the few crime thriller fans never to have been caught up in the whole craze. Don’t get me wrong, there are many Nordic Noir novels I’ve read an enjoyed, but for me the story has always been paramount and I’ve enjoyed novels set all over the world just as much. That said, one of my absolute favourite Nordic writers is Antti Tuomainen. I loved his novel The Healer, a dark tale set in the aftermath of catastrophic climate change, while his novel The Mine, a tale of corruption set in Finland’s mining industry, was sublime.
While I might not be a fully paid up member of the Nordic Noir phenomenon, I do love noir. The darker and grittier the better. Until now, Antti Tuomainen’s work has suited me perfectly which is why I was a little concerned to read that for his latest work he was lightening the tone somewhat. Apparently, he was going to write something “quirky”. Was I about to lose one of my favourite authors? Well I needn’t have worried. The Man Who Died is a lighter novel, but in the mould of Fargo. This is quirk with a pitch-black heart.
Jaako Kaunismaa is a mushroom entrepreneur. He and his wife, Taina, having discovered that the Japanese have a fondness for the mushrooms growing in the local forests, started a business that picks, freeze dries and exports them. But Jaako’s been feeling ill of late and the book begins with him visiting the doctor to receive some rather bad news: he’s been poisoned. It appears that somehow he’s ingested toxins and his organs are failing. Jaako returns home planning ion telling Taina the news only to find her having sex with the company’s handyman. His wife’s infidelities aren’t his only problem, for their mushroom company also has a new competitor, almost overnight some men with dubious backgrounds have opened a mushroom processing plant complete with the latest machinery.
So Jaako now realises two things: firstly, that he’s been murdered and, second, that he isn’t short of suspects. Was it Taina his unfaithful wife? The covetous handyman? His company’s new competitors? Some combination of two or all three? The Man Who Died follows Jaako’s quest to solve his murder, while saving his company, the last thing he cares for now he’s lost his wife.
This is a great book and I enjoyed it immensely. The comparisons with Fargo are apt for The Man Who Died shares the same black humour and is populated by similarly hapless characters. Reading the book, you just know that the story is going to end badly for some and part of the fun is trying to guess who will come to the stickiest end. Having finished the novel I don’t feel like I’ve lost one of my favourite authors after all, rather that he’s just reinvented himself. Will he go back to the darker noir? I hope he does occasionally, but equally I would like to see more of these Fargoesque stories. Perhaps he could alternate. But whatever the author chooses to write I’m sure it will be enjoyable.
James Pierson 5/5
The Man Who Died by Antti Tuomainen
Orenda 9781910633847 pbk Oct 2017
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