We’re all going to die. But Finnish businessman Jakko discovers more about his own death than most people would want to. He’s going to die quite soon, and he’s going to die quite unpleasantly. And he’s going to die because someone close to him has killed him. But who, and why? And what should he do about it?
Despite its title, this is not a morbid novel by any means. Instead the author uses the device of impending demise as a cunning plot contrivance – so the murder victim can investigate his own homicide – and as a philosophical prompt to examine the nature of mortality itself. This is done with intense delicacy, with the kind of light touch you might recall from Peter Hoeg’s Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow.
Yet although the subject matter is deadly serious, this book is not. Author Antti Tuomainen also blends black humour by the bucketful into his musings on the morality of morbidity, with a couple of shockingly comedic killings of the type you might expect to find in Fargo or Preacher. There’s barely time for Jakko to wrap his head around his own approaching end before an absurdly entertaining slice of slapstick sees a business rival on the sharp end of a samurai sword. From there, the ends just get stickier as Jakko uncovers layers of betrayal and deceit in his personal and professional lives.
Unexpectedly, then, The Man Who Died delivers plenty of laughs alongside a half-decent mystery. Actually, it’s an excellent mystery, but the resolution didn’t quite live up to its preamble. Tuomainen excels at dry understatement and wry observation – so expect to find yourself snorting with laughter at the most inappropriate moments – and the sections where he describes Jakko’s disintegrating physical condition are nothing short of stomach-churningly convincing. However, the whodunit aspect felt underplayed. The killer’s identity and motivation seemed secondary to the other facets of the story, on death, relationships and the black humour to be found in almost any circumstance.
I was slightly underwhelmed by the ending, then, but I adored the rest of the book and the author’s writing style. His other novels are apparently more outright noir and less comedic, and I’ve added them to my ‘want to read’ shelf…
Top marks to the translator, David Hackston, for an extremely stylish yet ‘clean’ read.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
The Man Who Died by Antti Tuomainen is available in paperback and ebook