Set in an unspecified future where climate change is causing profound damage and mass migration to the safe haven of the north, the narrative follows the search of poet Tapani Lehtinen for his journalist wife Johanna. She has vanished, apparently without trace, while reporting on a series of murders by the self-styled ‘Healer’, an activist targeting those he deems responsible for the environmental catastrophe. Part crime, part love-story and part dystopian fiction, this is an unusual novel that will hopefully be followed by a sequel. I particularly enjoyed its measured pacing and stylistic precision, which in keeping with its narrator has a distinctly poetic feel – beautifully translated by Lola Rogers. It won the Clue Award for Best Finnish Crime Novel in 2011, and has just been published in paperback by Vintage. It’s also one of the submissions for the 2014 Petrona Award.
Along with other reviewers such as Bernadette and Sarah, The Healer reminded me of Ben Winters’ excellent pre-apocalyptic crime novels, The Last Policeman and Countdown City, which are set in the States prior to an asteroid strike. The three novels explore similar, fascinating questions. What happens to social structures, but particularly to law and order when society begins to collapse? Why bother to investigate crimes or fight for justice (or write poetry) when everyone’s going to die anyway? And how do individuals respond when making moral choices in extreme circumstances? While all of this sounds pretty depressing, there is also a hopefulness to these narratives, which as Bernadette notes in her review of The Healer, makes them curiously uplifting reads.
I have to confess that I’m getting quite fond of apocalyptic crime. Here are the ones I’ve read recently (all good) and another I found while nosing around on the web. There do seem to have been quite a few published in the last couple of years, which suggests that they could be the product of a global zeitgeist. Reading The Healer while extreme weather hit UK shores and the US experienced a severe cold snap certainly added to my appreciation of the climate change theme.
Ioanna Bourazopoulou, What Lot’s Wife Saw (Greece / Black and White Publishing, 2013)
Quinn Fleming, DMQZ (USA / ebook, 2013 – still to read)
Hugh Howey, Wool (USA / Century, 2013)
Ben H. Winters, The Last Policeman (USA / Quirk, 2012)
Ben H. Winters, Countdown City (USA / Quirk, 2013)