The Man Who Died, Antti Tuomainen
If they are giving out an award for the most unexpected crime fiction novel, then THE MAN WHO DIED would have to be an odds on favourite.
Narrated by Jaakko Kaunismaa, this is the story of a Finnish mushroom entrepreneur, based in a small town, building a successful business after being made redundant in his last career. He has a beautiful home, a thriving business, faithful employees, a loving wife who cooks elaborate meals for him, and a perfect life.
Until he finds they have mysterious competitors just around the corner, when a new mushroom export business with very odd owners in charge starts up, and immediately tries to poach his markets and his very best employees. He then discovers his loving wife is screwing the company delivery boy, just after he is told that somebody has been slowly but surely poisoning him and that he will die.
What ensues is, as the blurb puts it, part Fargo and part noir, but it forgets to mention surreal. THE MAN WHO DIED is black comedy that takes a lot of leads from the Knights Who Say "Ni!", with just enough caper at points to have readers laughing, even though it's distinctly uncomfortable to be laughing with a man who does constantly remind you that he is dying. And can't do anything about it.
Now obviously, with his wife's indiscretions with the delivery boy, and then the odd goings on with long-term Japanese customers, and the fact that she is always so keen to provide hearty, rich meals for him, Kaunismaa is pretty sure he knows the likely source of his poisoning. It's hard to decide if he's most annoyed that he's being killed, or that his business is being undermined though. Meanwhile the police are very interested in his interactions with the owners of the new mushroom factory, a stolen sword (which wasn't) and the disappearances of a couple of the aforementioned owners. Then there's the whole business with the sauna and the borrowed car, and a night at the posh hotel when a new mushroom variety is served and, well this was amazingly engaging.
Having listened to the audio version, at the very beginning, with a flat, laid back sort of delivery in use, there were more than a few moments when a "What The" moment had me diving for the rewind button. This was without a doubt, one of the most intriguing books I've encountered this year and it reminded me, yet again, that Antti Tuomainen is a writer who deserves (and now has) a much higher position on the must read list.
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.