Review of Palm Beach Finland

Last year, I sat with the Finnish novelist Antti Tuomainen on a panel for the literary festival Newcastle Noir.

Tuomainen is a massive name in his home country and is enormously funny to listen to, much of his comedy consisting of making dry comments in a dark deadpan, followed by the comment “…Finnish humour!”

He clearly had many fans and he sold far more books afterwards than the rest of us on the panel put together.

Of course, I made a point of not buying one.

So, when my wife recently came back from the library, holding a copy of his last but one Palm Beach Finland, I read it in secret. Did it live up to its author’s undoubted ability to perform on stage?

The funniest writer in Finland

Tuomainen has been dubbed “the funniest writer in Europe” which you may – unless you are a Brexiteer – consider to be a very high accolade indeed.

Before meeting him, my only experience of Finnish humour came from the darkly comic movies of Aki Kaurismäki. Kaurismäki’s films are an acquired taste but turn out to be masterpieces of deadpan comedy, dry as Lakka liqueur, but always balanced by a very dark strain hidden beneath the surface.

Tuomainen’s style is lighter and more immediately approachable.

Born in Helsinki, to date he has published eight novels. His third, The Healer was awarded the Clue Award for Best Finnish Crime Novel and shortlisted for the Nordic Glass Key Award. While his books overall have been translated into over 25 languages.

Palm Beach Finland

Palm Beach Finland is his seventh. It can broadly be described as a Baltic Get Shorty or a Finnish Fargo, centring on the general ineptness of a trio of third-rate villains whose attempts to intimidate a house-owner into selling up lead to them accidentally murdering someone entirely different. Things go rapidly downhill from there.

The book’s two most sympathetic characters turn out to be Olivia, the stunningly attractive owner of the house, and prime suspect for the killing. And Jan, an undercover detective sent to investigate her.

Their stories interweave with those of the two stooges Chico and Robin, along with their boss, sweaty entrepreneur Leivo, whose goal is to create a beach resort to rival Florida – the Finnish Palm Beach of the title – and who will let nothing and no-one stand in his way.

Goosepimples on the Baltic

The story is very readable. Tuomainen has the skill to keep all his plates spinning in bravura style and the story barrels along at a sparkling pace, well served in this edition by translator David Hackston.

As for Finnish humour, the comic situations come thick and fast. The scenes are always amusing with some very sharp and funny dialogue.

Although they tend to rely perhaps a bit too much at times on the stupidity of the three villains. And the running joke of the Finnish weather perhaps works better in the Baltic.

As I read Palm Beach Finland, I wondered if Tuomainen could have done with some of Kaurismäki’s satirical darkness, to add more depth and variety of tone.

But as it is, the novel is a very enjoyable comic noir, with an admirable lightness of touch, which slips down as easily as a slice of sweet Korvapuusti.

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Palm Beach Finland

Antti Tuomainen

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