The arrival of a meteorite in a small Finnish town causes chaos and crime in this poignant, chilling and hilarious new thriller from the King of Helsinki Noir
A man with dark thoughts on his mind is racing along the remote snowy roads of Hurmevaara in Finland, when there is flash in the sky and something crashes into the car. That something turns about to be a highly valuable meteorite. With euro signs lighting up the eyes of the locals, the unexpected treasure is temporarily placed in a neighbourhood museum, under the watchful eye of a priest named Joel.
But Joel has a lot more on his mind than simply protecting the riches that have apparently rained down from heaven. His wife has just revealed that she is pregnant. Unfortunately Joel has strong reason to think the baby isn’t his. As Joel tries to fend off repeated and bungled attempts to steal the meteorite, he must also come to terms with his own situation, and discover who the father of the baby really is.
Once I am alone, I open the blinds. The darkness behind the window looks almost like water, so thick that you could dive into it. I’ve been listening to people all day, and every one of them has mentioned their children. For a while – until today – I’ve managed to forget about the subject, and find a bit of peace and quiet.
My big secret.
‘Conflicted emotions’ doesn’t seem to cover it.
I listen to other people’s secrets as part of my work, but all the while I’m carrying the greatest secret I can imagine. And still I haven’t been able to tell Krista the true nature of the situation. It’s not as if either of us has forgotten that I stepped on a mine, a homemade nail bomb, during my deployment to Afghanistan. What I haven’t told Krista is that by doing so, I lost the ability to have children. That while everything looks and works the way it should, while the surgeons successfully put everything back together, I was left with a blackspot. One that is permanent, incurable, unfixable.
Seven shared years.
Right from the beginning, Krista took, and continues to take, such good care of me in so many different ways.
And Krista’s most solemn wish? To start a family with me as soon as I returned from my secondment as a military chaplain.
At first I avoided telling her, because it felt like yet another explosion. I’d already survived one, but I didn’t know if I’d be so lucky second time round. And now time has passed, and the longer I leave it, the more difficult setting off another bombshell seems.
My wounds from the previous one were superficial – I’ve largely forgotten about them in my day-to-day life. Another explosion would send us back to square one. And probably further still – perhaps to a situation I thought I’d put behind me: a life without Krista.
I don’t want to think about a life like that.
And, of course, I’m carrying another secret too. Doubt. For what kind of God thinks this is good and acceptable, yet allows all the evils I have seen? I have asked God these questions, and I realise the paradoxical nature of my actions.
God, meanwhile, has remained silent.
I swap my trainers for a pair of winter boots, shrug on my eiderdown jacket, a thick red scarf, pull on my woolly hat and gloves, and leave.
The crisp snow crunches beneath my feet as I walk through the centre of the village: Pipsa’s Motel, Mini-Mart, the Teboil garage, the Golden Moon Night Club, Mega-Mart, Hurme Gear, Lasse’s Bar, the Co-op Bank, Hirvonen’s Auto Repairs, and the Pleasure Island Thai
massage parlour. Then, at the end of the perpetually deserted main street, the Town Hall and the War Museum. In the museum car park, cars with their motors running, red rear lights gleaming like pairs of sleep-deprived eyes. Villagers filled with meteor-mania. And, of course, members of the village committee.
I am about to turn onto the street where we live when I recall the confusion regarding yesterday’s security shifts.
I walk towards the museum. A large SUV with two men sitting inside is driving towards me. The driver is short and not wearing a hat. In the passenger seat is a man who can only be described as a giant. He fills half of the vehicle. The car has Russian plates. This afternoon’s fresh snow billows up and dampens my right cheek.
Four men are having a meeting in the car park. I recognise each of them even from this distance. Jokinen: a storekeeper whose acquisition methods remain unclear. Sometimes I get the sense that his yoghurts come from somewhere other than the wholesalers, and the meat he sells tastes fresher than anything I’ve ever bought at the meat counter in the local supermarket. Turunmaa: a farmer who deals mostly in potatoes and swedes, who dabbles in a bit of sprat fishing, and who owns so much forest he could form his own country. Räystäinen: mechanic and owner of the village gym, a man with a passion for bodybuilding, who insists that I too should take out membership of his gym and start working out properly. I have natural shoulders, apparently, and almost no fat to burn off. Then there’s Himanka: a pensioner, a man who looks so old and fragile that I wonder whether he should be out in temperatures this cold.
The four men notice my arrival. The conversation instantly dies down.
‘Joel,’ says Turunmaa by way of a greeting. He is wearing a furry cap and a leather jacket. The others are wrapped in quilted jackets and woolly hats.
As usual, Turunmaa seems to be leading the conversation. ‘We’re having a bit of a pow-wow.’
‘Tonight’s guard duty,’ says Räystäinen.
They fall silent. I look first at Jokinen.
‘I have to Skype my daughter in America,’ he says.
‘What?’ asks Himanka, shivering with cold.
I look at Turunmaa. ‘I want to watch the match,’ he says. ‘I’ve got a tenner on it.’
‘That time of the month, I’m afraid,’ says Räystäinen. He has a frankly astonishingly young wife, and they are doing exactly what Krista wishes we were doing: making vigorous attempts to start a family. I know this because Räystäinen has regaled me with the fine details.
I don’t even consider Himanka an option.
‘I’ll stand guard tonight,’ I say
Thank you, Antti Tuomainen and Random Things Tours.
About the author
Finnish Antti Tuomainen was an award-winning copywriter when he made his literary debut in 2007 as a suspense author. In 2011, Tuomainen’s third novel, The Healer, was awarded the Clue Award for ‘Best Finnish Crime Novel of 2011’ and was shortlisted for the Glass Key Award. Two years later, in 2013, the Finnish press crowned Tuomainen the ‘King of Helsinki Noir ’ when Dark as My Heart was published. With a piercing and evocative style, Tuomainen was one of the first to challenge the Scandinavian crime genre formula, and his poignant, dark and hilarious The Man Who Died (2017) became an international bestseller, shortlisting for the Petrona and Last Laugh Awards. Palm Beach Finland (2018) was an immense success, with The Times calling Tuomainen ‘the funniest writer in Europe’.
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