Friday, 30 December 2016

The Mine by Antti Tuomainen

I was introduced to this author through an earlier novel, The Healer. While that was a post-apocalyptic novel and The Mine is set in the current day, both books are eco-thrillers. And they’re both brilliant. In my review of The Healer, I wrote that I felt the environment to be seriously overlooked by fiction; that if one believes even half the warnings coming out of the scientific community, then the perilous state of the environment    is the massive elephant in the room that dwarfs the usual fare of thriller writers: terrorism, crime, etc.

Like The Healer, The Mine addresses that imbalance and does so without being preachy or hectoring. In fact, another feature both novels share is a deceptively simple plot. In The Mine, journalist Janne Vuori is contacted anonymously by email concerning a nickel mine in Suomalahti, northern Finland. The mine, operated by Finn Mining Ltd, a family concern and one of Finland’s biggest mining companies, is alleged by Vuori’s mystery correspondents to be an ecological disaster.

Vuori heads off to investigate and quickly begins to suspect that this is indeed the truth. There are several other strands to this story, a series of unexplained deaths and murders, Vuori’s father appearing on the scene after an absence of many years and his attempts to make amends to the wife and son he abandoned. But I won’t give too much away as I don’t want to spoil the fun

As with The Healer, The Mine isn’t a book packed with twists and turns and convoluted plot developments. That’s not to say that there isn’t a fair few surprises, but like his concern with the environment, the author’s writing style is sparse and direct. This is in no way a criticism; The Mine is a compelling read and carries a real punch. Its style suits the story the author wants to tell and where some authors distract from the message they want to get across with various literary party tricks, Antti Tuomainen tells a simple, yet poetically beautiful tale.

In conclusion, this is a strong novel. It’s a crime thriller with a conscience and unafraid to wear it. It’s never sanctimonious, it doesn’t hector the reader, but one feels the urgency of the crisis of the environment, we get a sense of the damage that we as a species have done while also warming to the protagonist and his family.

Highly recommended. 5 stars

Monday, 12 December 2016

The Healer by Antti Tuomainen

Anyone who reads the papers and doesn’t bury their head in the sand will know that we have a very serious problem. No, I don’t mean the election of Donald Trump, think bigger and more serious. I am, of course, referring to climate change. If you’re a climate change denier (read idiot) then this, I guess, isn’t going to be of interest. But assuming you aren’t an ostrich and that you have some faith in science, then you might wonder, as I have over the years, why more novelists haven’t tackled the problem.

Antti Tuomainen does just that in his crime thriller, The Healer. The novel is set in Helsinki in the years after catastrophic climate change has kicked in. What’s interesting here is that the author hasn’t plumbed to write a dystopia, this isn’t a Mad Max world where the society has been laid to waste. Rather his setting is in the twilight period, where things are going to hell in a handcart, where society is still functioning but has begun to unravel. He paints a grim picture of a country battered by storms and flooding - a feature of climate change of course, being that where some countries in the Equator will suffer famine and drought, others further north will suffer extreme weather events, heavy rainfall, tornados, etc. With this ecological disaster, social order is beginning to fray. Many Finns are fleeing north. The police are inundated with crime. Refugees from countries further south have arrived in record numbers. Private security companies paid for by the rich dispense vicious, vigilante justice.

It's two days before Christmas and Tapani Lehtinen, a struggling poet, is looking for his wife. Johanna is a journalist. She’s been researching the story of The Healer, a serial killer who has been murdering those he deems responsible for the climate crisis - industrialists, financiers, and suchlike. He slaughters them and their families. Tapani is desperate to find Johanna, but as he criss-crosses the city, he discovers things about her didn’t know. He also uncovers the secret of The Healer.

In many ways, this is an incredibly simple story. Tapani just looking for his wife. He speaks to her boss, an editor just interested in celebrity scandals, as with the world in terminal decline, who wants to read anything serious? He speaks with the overworked police officer leading the hunt for The Healer who Johanna was in touch with. He speaks with her closest friends who he discovers knew some of her secrets. But it’s the setting that makes this novel something special. Antti Tuomainen bring to vivid life a first world city on the brink, and because he doesn’t go full out and paint a picture of utter dystopia, it’s all too believable. For the behaviour he encounters is nothing less than what we have seen in real situations where law and order begins to unravel. How many riots have we seen on the TV news for example, where people start to loot shops as soon as it is apparent that for the time being at least, the police are powerless to intervene?

I have a few minor quibbles with some of the turns of phrase, but this might have been more a translation issue. Tuomainen is a Finnish writer and his novel was translated into English. That said, it is a minor quibble and did little to detract from the reading experience. A slightly bigger quibble is that I felt that the novel suffered a little from brevity. I wanted to explore more of this dark vision of Helsinki. But if anything, that might be a call to arms for other novelists. Too few writers have tackled climate change and hopefully Tuomainen’s novel will lead the charge rather than being a one off.

4 out of 5 stars

Delete by Karl Olsberg

Have you ever felt like the whole world is fake, like you’re living in one massive simulation? Like the matrix for example? Well if so, this genre mash-up, sci-fi-meets-crime-fiction, might just be for you.

Delete starts off with online gamers, in particular Mina who plays an orc in World of Wizardry, an MMORPG, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game. Think World of Warcraft, which it’s obviously based on. These are games which people from all over the world log into and play out their Dungeons & Dragons fantasies for hours on end. So, Mina is playing this game and another player acts weirdly, talks about how “it’s all true” and “World on a Wire”. He then stops playing, his avatar falling still and Mina’s character is killed as a result. Her death leads to her character losing all her hard-earned loot - magic armour, swords and the like. She’s pretty pissed off and goes looking for Thomas, the other player, in real life. Only to find that’s he’s gone missing in the real world too. She soon discovers that other players have gone missing too. Eventually she brings her concerns to the police.

Enter Chief Inspector Eisenberg who has just taken charge of an experimental unit. It comprises a programmer with severe Asperger’s, an obnoxious hacker, a police officer and a forensic psychologist. They have nothing better to do as the police don’t know yet what to do with the unit, in part because it has been plagued by internal disputes. As the crimes may have something to do with the MMORPG and their focus is cybercrime they begin to investigate.

This is a book of two halves. The first half is the much stronger. Here Eisenberg and his team are forced to grapple with the notion that perhaps the world is just a computer simulation. The author, Karl Olsberg, is a computer scientist and so this part of the book is quite unnerving. Apparently, there are quite a few physicists who take this idea seriously. This part of the books is like an entertaining, and to the author’s credit, not too heavy, philosophical treatise. Unfortunately to my mind, the second half of the book reverts to a traditional crime novel. Readers of my reviews might know that there is a certain strand of crime fiction that I can’t abide (no, not domestic noir, that’s the other strand that leaves me cold). I won’t spell it out in this review as it would in effect be a massive spoiler, but needless to say I was a little disappointed to find the author taking this path.

But then, just as the book comes to a close, there is an almighty twist, which to my mind salvages it once again. Really, it comes at the 11th hour, but is well worth it. It rounds the novel off nicely. Again, I can’t even give a hint as to what it is as I don’t want to ruin the fun, but it does do the trick.

4 out of 5 stars