Author – Johan Theorin (translated by Marlaine Delargy)
Published – 2011
Genre – Crime fiction / Thriller
When I mentioned on Twitter that I had a copy of this book (courtesy of @LynseyDalladay of Transworld) a number of people told me what a great book it was. I’m afraid this is another example of my opinion jarring with other people’s.
The story is set on the island of Öland, and a small community surrounding a disused quarry. Per Morner has inherited a small cabin on the edge of the quarry and hopes to spend time there with his teenage son and daughter, although his daughter is unwell and is currently in hospital on the mainland.
Eighty-three year old Gerlof Davidsson has moved out of the old people’s home he was living in to return to his family home near the quarry, convinced that he is going home to die. He discovers his late wife’s diaries, dating from the 1950’s, and despite the feeling that he shouldn’t be reading them, he can’t help himself.
Vendela and Max Larsson have had a brand new summer house built on the edge of the quarry. Max is a self-help guru and is about to write a cookbook. Vendela grew up on the island and is returning for the first time in over 30 years.
Morner has been trying to keep his distance from his father, Jerry, but he receives a call from him which he can’t ignore. When he drives to the mainland to collect his father he discovers him injured in a house which has been set on fire. Morner takes his father back to the island and it becomes clear that part of the problem in their relationship is his father’s involvement in the porn industry.
The fire is just the first disaster to befall Jerry and eventually a death raises serious concerns for the safety of Per and his family. Slow progress by the police means that Per begins to investigate Jerry’s seedy past himself.
There is a second strand to the story following Vendela and her sometimes strained relationship with her husband. Vendela believes in, and relies on, the elves of the island and her conviction in their existence is helped by her odd eating habits. Her story is that of her past, growing up on the island and how she came to leave it.
I found the book really slow to get going, and it was a struggle to persevere with it. I liked the characters of Per Morner and Gerlof Davidsson, but I found Vendela just plain weird. I guess that she was written as a character who had a troubled past, which left her disturbed, but I just wanted to give her a shake! This isn’t helped by her odd relationship with her husband, who seems to be a pretty unpleasant man.
The mystery is well written and intriguing, and the setting is dark and atmospheric, but the strange characters, trolls and elves outweighed the positives for me.
The blurb on the book (from the Observer) says “If you like Stieg Larsson, try a much better Swedish writer”, but for me this doesn’t deliver.
Score – 3/5