Today, it’s my turn on the blog tour for The Man Who Died by Antti Tuomainen. I’m sharing the tour today with The Quiet Geordie so feel free to check out her post. I have an extract for you from the first chapter to whet your appetite. But first, the blurb.
A successful entrepreneur in the mushroom industry, Jaakko Kaunismaa is a man in his prime. At just 37 years of age, he is shocked when his doctor tells him that he’s dying. What is more, the cause is discovered to be prolonged exposure to toxins; in other words, someone has slowly but surely been poisoning him. Determined to find out who wants him dead, Jaakko embarks on a suspenseful rollercoaster journey full of unusual characters, bizarre situations and unexpected twists.
With a nod to Fargo and the best elements of the Scandinavian noir tradition, The Man Who Died is a page-turning thriller brimming with the blackest comedy surrounding life and death, and love and betrayal, marking a stunning new departure for the King of Helsinki Noir.
‘It’s a good job you provided a urine sample too.’
The oval face of the doctor sitting behind the desk exudes seriousness and gravitas. The dark rims of his spectacles accentuate the blue, almost three-dimensional intensity of his gaze.
‘This…’ he stumbles. ‘This requires a little background. I’ve contacted my colleagues in Kotka and Helsinki. They said essentially the same as what we’ve been able to deduce here. Even if we’d picked this up the last time you visited, there’s nothing else we could have done. How are you feeling?’
I shrug my shoulders. I go through the same information I told the doctor the last time I was here and give an account of the latest symptoms. It all started with a sudden, powerful wave of nausea and vomiting that quite literally knocked me off my feet. After that my condition seemed to stabilise, but only for a while. Sometimes I feel so dizzy that I’m worried I might faint. I have coughing fits. Stress keeps me awake at night. When I finally fall asleep, I have nightmares. Sometimes my headaches are so intense it feels like someone is scraping a knife behind my eyeballs. My throat is constantly dry. The nausea has started again and it hits me without any warning.
And all this just when my business is getting ready for the most important time of the year, the greatest challenge we’ve ever faced in the short time we’ve existed.
‘Right,’ the doctor nods. ‘Right.’
I say nothing. He pauses before continuing. ‘This is not to do with prolonged, complicated flu symptoms, as we thought at first. Without a urine sample we might never have found out what was wrong. The sample told us a lot, and that’s what led us to conduct the MRI scan. With the results of the scan we’ve now got a fuller picture of what’s going on. You see, your kidneys, liver and pancreas – that is to say your most important internal organs – are extremely badly damaged. Given what you’ve told us, we can deduce that your central nervous system is severely compromised too. In addition to that, you may have experienced some amount of brain damage. All this is a direct result of the poisoning that showed up in your urine sample. The levels of toxicity – that is, the amount of poison in your system – would be enough to knock out a hippopotamus. The fact that you’re even sitting here in front of me and still going to work is, in my estimation, due to the fact that the poisoning has taken place over an extended period of time and in such a way that the poison has had time to accumulate in your body. In one way or another, you’ve become used to it.’
In my gut it feels as though I’m falling, as though something inside me tears free and hurtles down into the cold abyss beneath. The sensation lasts a few seconds. Then it stops. I’m sitting on a chair opposite the doctor, it’s a Tuesday morning and I’ll soon be on my way to work. I’ve read stories of how people act with great clarity in a fire or of how they don’t panic after they’ve been shot, though they’re bleeding profusely. I sit there and look the doctor in the eyes. I could be waiting for the bus.
‘You mentioned you work with mushrooms,’ the doctor says eventually.
‘But the matsutake isn’t poisonous,’ I answer. ‘And the harvest is just around the corner.’
I don’t know where to start.
I decide to tell the short version: back in Helsinki my wife worked in institutional catering, and I was a sales officer. Three and a half years ago the recession hit both our workplaces, and we were made redundant at around the same time. Meanwhile Hamina – like dozens of similar small Finnish towns – was desperately looking for new commercial activity to replace the empty harbour and recently decommissioned paper factory. We had a series of quick negotiations, secured a generous start-up grant, acquired premises that cost next to nothing and staff who were well acquainted with the local woods and terrain. We sold our one-bedroom apartment in suburban Helsinki, and for the same money bought a detached house in Hamina and a small fibreglass boat that we could tether to the jetty a mere seventy metres from our post box.
Our business idea was simple: the matsutake – the pine mushroom.
The Japanese were crazy about it, and Finnish forests were full of it.
The Japanese would pay up to a thousand euros per kilo of mushrooms in the early, sprouting phase. To the north and east of Hamina there were forests where picking pine mushrooms was as easy as plucking them from a plate in front of you. In Hamina we had treatment facilities, a dryer, a packing area, chilled spaces and employees. During the harvest season we sent a shipment to Tokyo once a week.
I have to catch my breath. The doctor seems to be thinking about something.
‘What about your lifestyle otherwise?’
‘Your diet, how much you exercise, that sort of thing.’
I tell him I eat well and with a good, hearty appetite. I haven’t once cooked for myself since I met Taina, and that was over seven years ago. And Taina’s meals aren’t the kind in which a teaspoon of celery purée stares dejectedly across the plate at a solitary sprig of wheatgrass. Taina’s basic ingredients are cream, salt, butter, cheeses and plenty of pork. I like Taina’s food, always have done. And it shows around my waistline. I weigh twenty-four kilos more than when we first met. Taina hasn’t gained weight; it might be because she’s bigger-boned than I am and has always looked like a weightlifter in peak physical condition, ready for a competition. I mean that in the nicest possible way: her thighs are solid, round and strong. Her shoulders are broad and her arms powerful without being masculine; her stomach is flat. Whenever I see pictures of female bodybuilders who are not ripped and grotesque, I think of Taina. Besides, she exercises too: she goes to the gym, takes aerobics classes, and ever since we moved here she goes rowing out at sea. Sometimes I try to keep up with her, though that too is becoming a rare occurrence.
I don’t know why I’m speaking so quickly, so effusively, why I have to talk about Taina in such detail. The next thing we know, I’ll be giving the doctor her measurements down to the nearest centimetre.
Then, as it seems the doctor isn’t focussing his healing eyes in the right direction, I ask him what we’re going to do about it. The doctor looks at me as though he’s just realised I haven’t listened to a single word he’s been saying. I notice his eyes blinking behind his spectacles.
‘Nothing,’ he says. ‘There’s nothing we can do.’
Wow! What’s going to happen to Jaakko? You’ll have to read the rest of the book to find out. Thank you to Antti, Orenda Books and Anne Cater for letting me take part in the tour.
The Man Who Died can be bought here.
Finnish Antti Tuomainen (b. 1971) was an award-winning copywriter when he made his literary debut in 2007 as a suspense author. The critically acclaimed My Brother’s Keeper was published two years later. In 2011 Tuomainen’s third novel, The Healer, was awarded the Clue Award for ‘Best Finnish Crime Novel of 2011’ and was shortlisted for the Glass Key Award. The Finnish press labelled The Healer – the story of a writer desperately searching for his missing wife in a post-apocalyptic Helsinki – ‘unputdownable’. Two years later in 2013 they crowned Tuomainen ‘The King of Helsinki Noir’ when Dark as My Heart was published. The Mine, published in 2016, was an international bestseller. All of his books have been optioned for TV/film. With his piercing and evocative style, Tuomainen is one of the first to challenge the Scandinavian crime genre formula, and The Man Who Died sees him at his literary best.