"If you had only a day left, what would you do? And what if you had a week? A month"
The Man Who Died begins with a unique premise. Successful mushroom farmer and business man Jaakko Kaunismaa is told by his doctor that he is terminally ill. Jaakko, it seems, is dying slowly from long term exposure to deadly poisonous toxins. So begins a journey on which he must come to terms with his own imminent mortality at the same time as investigating who it is who wants him dead. With his business cultivating specialist, and highly prized, mushrooms for the Japanese market could there be industrial espionage at play? Or should Jaakko look closer to home, in The Man Who Died anything can happen.
Jaakko's attitude to his terminal illness is really interesting; rather than wallowing in self pity he writes of list of all the things he wants to do with his time left on Earth; "The good thing about death is that as it draws closer many things I used to think were important lost their significance". This 'To Do List' provides the resilience he needs to tackle the issues thrown his way as he starts to investigate more into his business, his wife and his suppliers. Thanks to Jaakko I now know a lot more about the Finnish mushroom industry!
But that's not all. Through Tuomainen's writing I know a whole lot more about Finland itself. To call The Man Who Died a black comedy probably doesn't go far enough to explain quite how surreally funny this book is. The scene in which Jakkoo fights a man to the death in a sauna is a uniquely Finnish blend of humour and gore. With much of the Nordic Noir genre being light on laughs The Man Who Died provides some light relief.
Crime and mystery fans will enjoy this novel but for me its the insight into Antti Tuomainen's Finland which is most rewarding. In short this is delightfully genre blending caper about a man with only months left to live. "Death felt at its most unreal in the mornings", Jaakko muses in typical irreverent style before simply getting on with his day with new found urgency. You have to admire a man with a 'To Do List'.
I read this novel in paperback mostly over a weekend at home in Oxfordshire.
The Man Who Died by Antti Tuomainen (translated by David Hackston), published by Orenda Books, 300 pages.
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