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‘In the dock’ with Antti Tuomainen

Finnish crime author Antti Tuomainen’s books have been described by the Finnish press as ‘unputdownable’ and ‘piercing and evocative’.

His latest novel The Healer was shortlisted for the Glass Key Award for Best Scandinavian Crime Novel in 2012 (previous winners include Henning Mankell, Stieg Larsson, Jo Nesbo, Arnaldur Indridason, Karin Fossum and Hakan Nesser) and is published in the UK today. Metro was full of praise for the book: “Tuomainen conjures up in spare, softly poetic prose the collapse of social order and human decency in the face of environmental havoc.”

Antti is our sixth author to be placed ‘in the dock’ where our conversation in his home town of Helsinki turned to Raymond Chandler, favourite lines from books and some decidedly delicious Finnish ‘tapas’.

Antti, please tell us about your new book in your own words?
The Healer is a crime story and a love story. The plot can be summed up in one sentence: a man searches for his missing wife in Helsinki that is wrecked by climate change. The main character Tapani Lehtinen is a poet and his wife Johanna is a journalist. They have been hanging on to ‘normal’ life as well as they have been able to, with both of them working and writing. But when Johanna goes missing while investigating a series of murders, everything seems to finally come apart at the same time.

Where do you set your books and why?
The first three novels (including The Healer) have been set in Helsinki. I love this town. I was born here and I’ve lived here almost all my life, except for a year in the US and half a year in Berlin. However, my fourth novel takes place largely in a manor house on the sea about seventy miles from Helsinki. But it looks like I’m coming back to Helsinki for the fifth. I suppose I can’t stay away even if I tried.

Does your writing ever scare you?
The Healer is very apocalyptic in its atmosphere. It is set in a time when the effects of climate change are physically felt. The infrastructure is falling apart and people understand that it is not just a temporary glitch. For me, it is a very scary scenario and, if the scientists are right, a frightful possibility.

Who is your most recognized character? What/who was the inspiration behind that character?
I would say Tapani Lehtinen, the poet, who is the main character of The Healer. The inspiration behind him was both professional and linguistic. By having a poet narrate a crime story I was able to use language that is both precise and lyrical. Also, I thought it would be very interesting to have a poet as a main character in a crime story. It turned out that it was.

Which crime fiction related book, TV programme or film have had the most impact on you or your writing?
I’ve always liked writers who’ve combined different elements in their crime fiction. From Raymond Chandler who, when I’ve reread him, is quite literary and not nearly as hard-boiled as generally categorised, to Joyce Carol Oates who is absolutely masterful in creating tension and suspense and a feeling of something-bad-is-going-to-happen. Of course, my influences are from Finland also. Two writers that I think have influenced me maybe more than others are Finnish prose masters Veijo Meri and Juha Seppälä

What is your favourite scene or line from any crime fiction book?
One of the great opening lines that I still remember is from John Gregory Dunne’s beautiful and brilliant True Confessions: ‘None of the merry-go-rounds seem to work anymore.’

Are you a disciplined writer?
I suppose I am. I have written professionally for fifteen years. I’ve been a copywriter and a journalist and right now I’m a full-time writer. Actually, my former profession as a copywriter gave me many opportunities to work under pressure and meet quite a few deadlines. It’s very good to have that experience and I’m grateful for it. I try to work every weekday, pretty much nine-to-five. Having said that, it is now Sunday afternoon. So much for that discipline.

Where do you write?
It varies. I have a study here at home. But more often than not, I’m sitting on the living-room couch with my laptop and typing away. Or, as was the case with The Healer, I wrote it in many different locations: coffee shops in different parts of Helsinki, for example.

What tip would you give any budding writers?
There is no substitute to reading. You need to read everything and anything. As for writing, I think it was the great Lawrence Block who said something like: ‘Write what you want and don’t expect anything.’ Excellent advice.

E-book or paper?
Paper. I love books, everything about them: the feel, the easiness of reading, the cover art, the layout. And besides being beautiful objects, they are electricity-free and pleasantly quiet.

If you were a fictional character, how would you write your own death?
This is a tough question. Perhaps it is best left for others to write.

And what would your final meal be?
Maybe a good fresh slice of Finnish dark rye bread with Baltic herring marinated in garlic and oil on top. A delicious combination, sort of a Finnish tapas. (I just had some, so maybe that’s how I thought of it…)

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