Finnish author Antti Tuomainen’s The Man Who Died is a bizarre, twisty, darkly comic novel about a man investigating his own murder. It’s a tightly paced Scandinavian thriller with a wicked sense of humor and a bumbling ne’er-do-well at its center.
Mushroom entrepreneur Jaakko Kaunismaa receives terrible news from his doctor: there are enough fatal levels of toxins in his body to kill a hippopotamus. He’s still alive because the toxin has built up in his body over time. Someone has been slowly poisoning him. With the limited time he has left, Jaakko is determined to discover his murderer.
There’s no shortage of suspects. His wife is sleeping with one of his young employees. A rival mushroom company with an affinity for samurai swords has just moved in down the road. None of Jaakko’s employees are thrilled with his leadership.
The plot is sufficiently shrouded in mystery. Sentences are clean and clear, filled with beautiful descriptions of Finnish countrysides and forests. Jaakko is a sympathetic protagonist. As his inner monologue narrates the story, it’s hard not to root for him. Most of the book’s humor comes from the absurd situations he finds himself in. While not a riotously funny novel, it has several laugh-out-loud moments. But when the mystery is finally solved, it feels tacked on as an afterthought. The reasons behind his poisoning are too thin to be plausible. It’s the only downside to an otherwise excellent mystery story.
The strength of The Man Who Died lies in its questions rather than its answers. In Antti Tuomainen’s world, the fun comes from watching a murder investigation unfold. The result of that investigation is underwhelming, but it’s still worth going along for the ride.
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