The Healer: A Novelby Antti Tuomainen
One man's search for his missing wife in a dystopian futuristic Helsinki that is struggling with ruthless climate change
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It's two days before Christmas and Helsinki is battling a ruthless climate catastrophe: subway tunnels are flooded; abandoned vehicles are left burning in the streets; the authorities have issued warnings about malaria,
One man's search for his missing wife in a dystopian futuristic Helsinki that is struggling with ruthless climate change
It's two days before Christmas and Helsinki is battling a ruthless climate catastrophe: subway tunnels are flooded; abandoned vehicles are left burning in the streets; the authorities have issued warnings about malaria, tuberculosis, Ebola, and the plague. People are fleeing to the far north of Finland and Norway where conditions are still tolerable. Social order is crumbling and private security firms have undermined the police force. Tapani Lehtinen, a struggling poet, is among the few still able and willing to live in the city.
When Tapani's beloved wife, Johanna, a newspaper journalist, goes missing, he embarks on a frantic hunt for her. Johanna's disappearance seems to be connected to a story she was researching about a politically motivated serial killer known as "The Healer." Desperate to find Johanna, Tapani's search leads him to uncover secrets from her past. Secrets that connect her to the very murders she was investigating...
The Healer is set in desperate times, forcing Tapani to take desperate measures in order to find his true love. Written in an engrossingly dense but minimal language, Antti Tuomainen's The Healer is a story of survival, loyalty, and determination. Even when the world is coming to an end, love and hope endure.
Verdict Although set in the future, the author’s third novel (which won the Clue Award for Best Finnish Crime Novel 2011) is more similar in tone to Ben Winters’s Edgar Award?winning The Last Policeman and should appeal to readers who enjoyed that combination of imminent apocalypse and its effects on society with one man’s quest to solve a mystery on a smaller, human scale. [Previewed in Kristi Chadwick’s Genre Spotlight mystery feature, “Following the Digital Clues,” LJ 4/15/13.Ed.]Dan Forrest, Western Kentucky Univ. Libs., Bowling Green
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By Antti Tuomainen, Lola Rogers
Henry Holt and CompanyCopyright © 2010 Antti Tuomainen
All rights reserved.
Which was worse—complete certainty that the worst had happened, or this fear, building up moment by moment? Sudden collapse, or slow, crumbling disintegration?
I lurched with the force of a swerve that shook me out of my wandering thoughts, and looked up.
Yellow-black flames from a wrecked truck lashed the pillar of the pedestrian bridge at the Sörnäinen shore road. The truck looked broken in the middle, embracing the pillar like a pleading lover. Not one of the passing cars slowed down, let alone stopped. They moved to the outside lane as they flew by, passing the burning wreck at the greatest possible distance.
So did the bus I was sitting in.
I opened my rain-soaked parka, found a packet of tissues in the inside pocket, pulled one loose with numb fingers, and dried my face and hair with it. The tissue was drenched through in a moment. I squeezed it into a ball and shoved it into my pocket. I shook drops of water from the hem of my jacket into the space between my knees and the wall, then took my phone out of the pocket of my jeans. I tried to call Johanna again.
The number was still unavailable.
The metro tunnel was closed from Sörnäinen to Keilaniemi because of flooding. The train had taken me as far as Kalasatama, where I'd had to wait for the bus for twenty minutes under a sky pouring rain.
The burning truck was left behind as I went back to watching the news on the screen attached to the back of the driver's bulletproof glass compartment. The southern regions of Spain and Italy had officially been left to their own devices. Bangladesh, sinking into the sea, had erupted in a plague that threatened to spread to the rest of Asia. The dispute between India and China over Himalayan water supplies was driving the two countries to war. Mexican drug cartels had responded to the closing of the U.S.-Mexico border with missile strikes on Los Angeles and San Diego. The forest fires in the Amazon had not been extinguished even by blasting new river channels to surround the fires.
Ongoing wars or armed conflicts in the European Union: thirteen, mostly in border areas.
Estimated number of climate refugees planet-wide: 650–800 million people.
Pandemic warnings: H3N3, malaria, tuberculosis, Ebola, plague.
Light piece at the end: the recently chosen Miss Finland believed that everything would be much better in the spring.
I turned my gaze back to the rain that had been falling for months, a continuous flow of water that had started in September and paused only momentarily since. At least five seaside neighborhoods—Jätkäsaari, Kalasatama, Ruoholahti, Herttoniemenranta, and Marjaniemi—had been continuously flooded, and many residents had finally given up and abandoned their homes.
Their apartments didn't stay empty for long. Even damp, moldy, and partially underwater, they were good enough for the hundreds of thousands of refugees arriving in the country. In the evenings large, bright cooking fires and campfires shone from flooded neighborhoods without power.
I got off the bus at the railway station. It would have been quicker to walk through Kaisaniemi Park, but I decided to go around it, along Kaivokatu. There weren't enough police to monitor both the streets and the parks. Walking through the masses of people around the railway station was something always to be avoided. Panicked people were leaving the city and filling jam-packed trains headed north, with all their possessions in their backpacks and suitcases.
Motionless forms lay curled up in sleeping bags under plastic shelters in front of the station. It was impossible to tell whether they were on their way somewhere or simply lived there. The dazzling glow of tall floodlights mixed at eye level with the shimmer of exhaust fumes, the streetlights, and the garish red, blue, and green of lighted advertisements.
The half-burned central post office stood across from the station, a gray-black skeleton. As I passed it, I tried to call Johanna again.
I reached the Sanomatalo building, stood in line for fifteen minutes waiting to go through security, took off my coat, shoes, and belt, put them back on, and walked to the reception desk.
I asked the receptionist to ring Johanna's boss, who for some reason wasn't answering my calls. I had met him a few times, and my guess was that if the call came from within the building he would answer, and when he learned who it was, he'd let me tell him why I had come.
The receptionist was an icy-eyed woman in her thirties who, judging by her short hair and controlled gestures, was a former soldier who now guarded the physical integrity of the country's last newspaper, her gun still at her side.
She looked me in the eye as she spoke into the air.
"A man named Tapani Lehtinen ... I checked his ID. ... Yes ... One moment."
She nodded to me, the movement of her head like the blow of an ax.
"What is your business?"
"I'm unable to reach my wife, Johanna Lehtinen."CHAPTER 2
Half by mistake, I had recorded the last phone conversation I'd had with Johanna, and I knew it by heart:
"I'm going to be working late today," she began.
"How late is late?"
"Inside or outside work?"
"I'm already outside. I have a photographer with me. Don't worry. We're going to talk to some people. We'll keep to public places."
A murmuring sound, the noise of cars, a murmur, a low rumble, and the murmur again.
"Are you still there?" she asked.
"Where would I have gone? I'm at my desk."
"I'm proud of you," Johanna said. "The way you keep going."
"So do you," I said.
"I guess so," she said, suddenly quiet, almost whispering.
"I love you. Come home in one piece."
"Sure," she whispered, and her words came quickly now, almost a single chain. "See you tomorrow at the latest. I love you."
A murmur. A crackle. A soft click. Silence.CHAPTER 3
Managing editor Lassi Uutela's roughly forty-year-old face was covered in blue-gray stubble, and his eyes showed an irritation that he lacked the ability, and perhaps even the desire, to hide.
He was standing directly in front of me when the elevator doors opened on the fifth floor. He wore a black dress shirt and a thin gray sweater, dark jeans, and sneakers. His arms were crossed over his chest, a position they relinquished with elaborate reluctance as I stepped toward him.
Lassi Uutela's least appealing characteristics—his envy of more accomplished journalists, his tendency to avoid confrontation, his habit of holding grudges, his need to always be right—were all familiar to me from what Johanna had told me. Johanna's and Lassi's views of the job of a reporter and the direction of the paper had been clashing more and more often. The ripples from these clashes had come ashore even at home.
We shook hands for a long time and introduced ourselves even though we knew who we were. For a fleeting moment it felt like I was performing in a bad play. As soon as he got his hand free, Lassi turned and brushed the door open with his fingertips. I followed him as he kicked his feet angrily in front of him, as if dissatisfied with their progress. We arrived at the end of a long hallway where there was a corner office a few meters square.
Lassi sat down at his desk in a black high-backed chair and gestured toward the room's only other chair, a sort of white plastic cup.
"I thought Johanna was working at home today," he said.
I shook my head.
"To tell you the truth, I was hoping to find her here."
Now it was his turn to shake his head. The gesture was impatient and brief.
"The last time I saw Johanna was at yesterday's all-staff meeting, around six o'clock. We went through the jobs in progress as usual, then everybody went their separate ways."
"I spoke with Johanna yesterday evening at about nine o'clock."
"Where was she?" he asked indifferently.
"Outside somewhere," I said, and then, after a pause, more quietly, "I didn't think to ask where."
"So you haven't heard from her for a whole day?"
I shook my head, watching him. His posture, leaning backward, the expression on his face, and the pauses deployed between his words revealed what he was really thinking—that I was wasting his time.
"What?" I asked, as if I didn't understand his body language.
"I was just wondering," he said, "whether this has ever happened before."
He puckered up his lower lip and lifted his eyebrows—it looked like each one weighed a ton—and acted as if he expected a reward for raising them.
"No reason. It's just that these days ... all kinds of things can happen."
"Not to us," I said. "It's a long story, but these things don't happen to us."
"Of course not," Lassi said, in a tone somewhat lacking in conviction. He didn't even bother looking me in the eye. "Of course not."
"What story was she working on?"
He didn't answer right away, just weighed his pen in his hand, perhaps weighing something in his mind as well.
"What was it about?" I pressed, seeing that he wasn't going to begin on his own.
"It's probably stupid of me to share this information with you, but then it was a stupid article," he said, leaning his elbows on the desk and looking at me obliquely, as if to gauge my reaction.
"I understand," I said, and waited.
"It's about the Healer."
I may have flinched. Johanna had told me about the Healer.
She'd got her first e-mail from him right after the family in Tapiola was murdered. Someone who called himself the Healer had taken responsibility for the crime. 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. That's why he had murdered the CEO of a manufacturing company and his family. And that's why he would continue to murder whoever he claimed had contributed to the acceleration of climate change. Johanna had notified the police. They investigated and did what they could. There were now nine executives and politicians who'd been killed altogether, along with their families.
I sighed. Lassi shrugged and looked satisfied with my reaction.
"I told her it wouldn't lead anywhere," he said, and I couldn't help noticing a slightly triumphant tone in his voice. "I told her she wouldn't find out any more than the police had. And our rapidly shrinking readership doesn't want to read about it. It's just depressing. They already know that everything's going to hell in a handbasket."
I looked out into the rain-soaked darkness over Töölö Bay. I knew there were buildings out there, but I couldn't see them.
"Did Johanna already write the article?" I asked when we'd had sufficient time to listen to ourselves and the building breathing.
Lassi leaned back in his chair, put his head against the headrest, and looked at me through half-opened eyes, as if I were not on the other side of his narrow desk but far off on the horizon.
"Why do you ask?" he said.
"Johanna and I always keep in touch with each other," I explained. It occurred to me that when we repeat things, it isn't always for the purpose of convincing other people. "I don't mean constantly. But if nothing else we at least send each other a text message or an e-mail every few hours. Even if we don't really have anything to tell each other. It's usually just a couple of words. Something funny, or sometimes something a little affectionate. It's a habit with us."
This last sentence was purposely emphatic. Lassi listened to me, his face expressionless.
"Now I haven't heard from her for twenty-four hours," I continued, and realized I was directing my words to my own reflection in the window. "This is the longest time in all the ten years we've been together that we haven't been in touch with each other."
I waited another moment before I said something just like all the clichés, not caring a bit how it sounded.
"I'm sure that something has happened to her."
"Something has happened to her?" he said, then paused for several seconds in a way that was becoming familiar. There could be only one purpose for these pauses: to undercut me, to make what I said sound stupid and pointless.
"Yes," I said drily.
Lassi didn't say anything for a moment. Then he leaned forward, paused, and said, "Let's assume you're right. What do you intend to do?"
I didn't have to pretend to think about it. I immediately replied, "There's no point in reporting her disappearance to the police. All they can do is enter it in their records. Disappearance number five thousand twenty-one."
"True," Lassi agreed. "And twenty-four hours isn't a terribly long time, either."
I lifted my arm as if to fend off this statement physically, as well as mentally.
"As I said, we always stay in touch. For us, twenty-four hours is a long time."
Lassi didn't need to dig very deep to find his irritation. His voice rose, and at the same time a colder rigidity crept into it, as he quickly said, "We have reporters that are in the field for a week at a time. Then they come back with the story. That's the way it works."
"Has Johanna ever been in the field for a week without contacting you?"
Lassi kept his eyes on me, drummed his fingers on the armrest of his chair, and puckered his lips.
"I admit, she hasn't."
"It's just not like her," I said.
Lassi twisted in his chair and spoke rapidly, as if he wanted to hurry up and make sure he was right: "Tapani, we're trying to put together a newspaper here. There's basically no advertising money, and our rule of thumb is that nobody's interested in anything. Except, of course, sex and porn, and scandals and revelations connected with sex and porn. We sold more papers yesterday than we have in a long time. And I assure you we didn't do it with any in-depth reports about the thousands of missing warheads or investigative articles on how much drinking water we have left. Which, by the way, is about half an hour's worth, from what I can tell. No, our lead story was about a certain singer's bestiality video. That's what the people want. That's what they pay for."
He took a breath and continued in a voice that was even more tense and impatient than before, if that was possible.
"Then I've got reporters, like, for instance, Johanna, who want to tell the people the truth. And I'm always asking them, what fucking truth? And they never have a good answer. All they say is that people should know. And I ask, but do they want to know? And more important, do they want to pay to know?"
When I was sure he had finished, I said, "So you tell them about a no-talent singer and her horse."
He looked at me again, from someplace far away where clueless idiots like me aren't allowed to go.
"We're trying to stay alive."
We sat silently for a moment. Then he opened his mouth again: "Can I ask you something?" he said.
"Do you still write your poetry?"
I expected this. He couldn't resist needling me. The question had the seed of the next question in it. It was meant to indicate that I was on the wrong track when it came to Johanna just like I was when it came to everything else. So what. I decided to give him a chance to continue in the vein he'd chosen. I answered honestly.
"When was the last time you were published?"
Once again, I didn't need to think about my answer.
"Four years ago," I said.
He didn't say anything more, just looked at me with red-rimmed, satisfied eyes like he'd just proven some theory of his to be correct. I didn't want to talk about it anymore. It would have been a waste of time.
"Where does Johanna sit?" I asked.
"I want to see her workstation."
"Normally I wouldn't allow it," Lassi said, looking like his last bit of interest in the whole matter had just evaporated. He glanced nonchalantly past me at the office full of cubicles, which he could see through the glass wall. "But I guess there's not much we do normally anymore, and the office is empty, so go ahead."
I got up and thanked him, but he'd already turned toward his monitor and become absorbed in his typing, as if he'd wished he were someplace else the whole time.
Johanna's workstation was easy to find on the right side of the large, open office. A picture of me led me to it.
Something lurched inside me when I saw the old snapshot and imagined Johanna looking at it. Could she see the same difference in my eyes that I saw?
In spite of the large stacks of paper, her desk was well organized. Her closed laptop lay in the middle of the table. I sat down and looked around. There were a dozen or more workstations, which the reporters called clovers, in the open office space, with four desks at each station. Johanna's desk was on the window side and had a direct view into Lassi's office. Or rather, the upper section of his office—cardboard was stacked against the lower half of the glass walls. The view from the window wasn't much to look at. The Kiasma art museum with its frequently patched copper roof loomed like a gigantic shipwreck in the rain—black, tattered, run aground.
Excerpted from The Healer by Antti Tuomainen, Lola Rogers. Copyright © 2010 Antti Tuomainen. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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