The Man Who Died

The Man Who Died

The Man Who Died
Genre: Crime Fiction
Author: Antti Tuomainen
Publication Year: 2017
Length: 289 pages

I’ve been to Finland. It’s not a particularly interesting country, all things considered. I mean its history and general hatred for the Russians and the Swedes is interesting. And the whole 24 hours of light or 24 hours of dark is interesting. But otherwise it all kind of feels like an odd mix of Soviet-era brutalism mingled with blonde Ikea minimalism. Finns themselves have the attitudes of Germans and the cockiness of the French. The society feels… insular. But highly drunk. And this, ladies and gentleman, is my completely ignorant thesis on Finland after spending 48 hours there — 42 hours of which I was awake, working and drinking and then working and drinking. Without the sun ever going down.

Why the hell am I speculating about this random Nordic country? Because The Man Who Died takes place in this bleak northern nation, and is apparently in the tradition of Nordic noir. Or Scandinavian noir. Even though Finland isn’t technically a Scandinavian country. Which, as far as I can tell, is like Californian crime fiction noir, but with some elements of Schwarzenegger action film? Not that our main character here, Jaakko Kaunismaa, is Arnold-like. Quite the opposite, in fact. I originally took him for more of a middle-aged dude by his balding, paunchy description, but he turns out to be a mere 37. And he’s dying. As if you couldn’t tell that from the book’s title. Granted, he’s not dead yet, but he’s well on his way. Because he’s been slowly poisoned to the point there’s no coming back from it. He’s truly a dead man walking. And now it’s time to figure out who done it.

But, of course, this isn’t the only thing going on in Jaakko’s life. His wife is cheating on him with one of his employees. And his mushroom business has a new mysterious rival in town, threatening his livelihood with their fancy-pants new machinery and perceived deep pockets. To recap: he’s about to lose his wife, his company and his life. Pretty harrowing stuff. But, first, he must figure out who killed him before he actually succumbs to the poison in his system. His first thought is the cheating wife, of course. And then perhaps these new-to-town mushroom barons. Which, honestly, doesn’t make any sense. And is pursued in what the Finns would consider a semi-comedic fashion. Is the novel funny? No, not really. But sometimes humor across cultures doesn’t exactly translate. Plus, I’m a tough customer when it comes to “funny” in my writing. To add, it’s supposed to be a somewhat comedic book, but despite his unimpressive physical stats, Jaakko’s foes often end up with implements sticking out of their skulls, and others meet their ends in absurd and violent ways. It’s a little weird, truth be told. The Arnold of it all.

In these types of novels, your enjoyment only goes as far as your feelings about the main character. And I think Jaakko is unique. But like unique in his non-uniqueness. He has no specific skills (other than knowing his mushrooms) and is kind of mid when it comes to smarts. He’s your typical everyman, and his luck is mostly dumb luck. I can’t say that the action scenes make a whole lot of sense in the context of this tale. And to classify it as noir is… well, to me it doesn’t read as noir. Despite the whole pre-murdered main character, it’s not a particularly dark tale. It can be goofy at times. And there just isn’t the tension you’d find in your typical noir. It reminds more of what I imagine an Elmore Leonard novel to be. Or Carl Haissan. Admittedly I’ve read a total of zero of either of those dudes’ books, but it feels more like that than the hardboiled detective, noir stuff I actually have read (and watched). Is it a novel I will remember in a few years? Perhaps because of the setting and the concept, yes. Less so because of the execution. But, hey, at least I can now say I’ve gotten into Nordic noir, right?