While the plots of many Nordic noir writers are turning ever more grim, Finland’s Antti Tuomainen opts these days for a wittier, lighter touch. So it is with Little Siberia, the tale of a meteorite that comes crashing into eastern Finland and eventually into the guardianship of local priest Joel. The rock is valuable and Joel is soon fending off the attempts of bungling criminals to steal it. Add Russians, a worrying pregnancy, a down-on-his luck rally driver and a neat subtext about faith, and Little Siberia (adroitly translated by David Hackston) is quite the ride.
Tuomainen has thrown everything in that a noir novel needs – moral conundrums, grifters, schemes, infidelity… but there’s more. For one thing, there’s visceral action, and lots of it. Joel tries hard not to be violent, but the fight comes to him most of the time and in between counselling confused partitioners – including some who covet the €1 million meteor – he’s fighting off assailants in increasingly bizarre circumstances. That grenade was just the beginning.
More than that, though, is the author’s wonderful handling of the book’s subtext, which is all about losing and regaining faith. For Joel, even though he’s a minister, it’s not his not faith in God but in his wife and, ultimately, in himself. When Krista is taken, he starts to realise what the problems he faces boil down to. What seems like a cockamamie crime novel full of dark humour is also a wonderfully poignant piece of writing by Antti Tuomainen. He packs it all into 245 pages too. Whether you’re a Nordic noir lover or not, you should read Little Siberia as soon as you can.