Saturday, August 22, 2009

THE DARKEST ROOM: JOHAN THEORIN



Katrine and Joakim Westin have moved with their children from a house they renovated in Stockholm's suburbs to an old manor house at Eel Point on the western side of the island of Oland. In the 1960s Katrine's mother and grandmother had rented part of the outbuildings, now Katrine and Joakim intend to renovate the house and live their permanently. Joakim returns to Stockholm to collect some possessions and leave the house keys, and while he is away Katrine is found drowned.
Johan Theorin tells us some of the haunting stories about tragic episodes that have occurred in the past at Eel Point, a house which seems to be cursed with bad luck.
There are other threads to the story, Oland has many summer cottages owned by "Stockholmers" which are unoccupied for most of the year, rather like many of the villages in Devon. Local man Henrik Jansson, is encouraged to return to his former ways by the half crazy Serelius brothers, Tommy and Freddy, and they begin a campaign of burglaries.
The police station in Mornas has reopened and Tilda Davidsson, fresh from training college, will be working from there investigating the burglaries while trying to recover from the recent emotional trauma of being dumped by her creepy married lover Martin. Tilda is meanwhile researching her dead grandfather's past and the old stories about Oland by interviewing his brother, the old sea captain Gerlof Davidsson, who we met in Echoes From The Dead, Theorin's award winning debut novel. Gerlof in his chats with Tilda suggests that perhaps Katrine Westin was murdered.

As Joakim struggles to cope with his grief at Katrine's death he hears noises in the manor house and in the old barn. He explores the barn and discovers a mysterious room hidden behind a wall with the names of those who have died at Eel Point chiseled onto the wooden panels.
As the winter skies darken all the strands of the story will come together on the night of a terrible blizzard, and when tradition claims the dead gather to celebrate Christmas.

This brilliant novel is part ghost story, part detective story, and a really gripping thriller. The book reads as if written in English so translator Marlaine Delargy has done a very good job. The human characters are all well drawn but the island of Oland and its folklore are the dominating characters.

Tilda knew how quickly it could happen. The blizzard transformed the alvar into a white, ice-cold desert and made it impossible to travel by car anywhere on the island. Even the snow scooters would sink and get stuck in the snow.

This is a beautifully constructed story with all the various threads and layers interwoven so cleverly, but as with most good crime fiction nothing is quite as it seems and there are some unseen and unexpected twists at the end. This is without doubt one of the best crime fiction books I have read in 2009.

"Oh, that's an old story," said Gerlof. "It's told in many places, not just here at Eel Point. The Christmas vigil of the dead, that's when those who have passed away during the year return for their own Christmas service. Anyone who disturbed them at that time had to run for their life."

The Darkest Room was voted Best Crime Novel by the Swedish Academy of Crime and also won the Glass Key for Best Nordic Crime Novel.

6 Comments:

Blogger crimeficreader said...

You have put me to shame, Norm. I forgot to mention the translator again!

I really enjoyed this book, although I didn't think I would when I saw mention of a "ghost story". Luckily there were no ghosts as part of the proper plot, if you get my drift.

One of the best I've read this year too. Totally agree with you.

11:57 AM  
Blogger Maxine said...

Great review, Norman, of a wonderful book. I too was a bit worried about the prospect of a ghost story but need not have been. I love the character of Gerlof- even though minor he stands out - and the old story of him and his brother. But the whole book is so wonderful and certainly deserves many more awards in my opinion. Theorin really enjoys storytelling and sure is a great plotter!

4:07 AM  
Blogger Bernadette in Australia said...

Great review Norman. I'm looking forward to this one as I really loved his first book too...it's not on sale here but there's always book depository :)

4:25 AM  
Blogger Diane said...

These two sound great. I do enjoy thrillers. Thanks for the post.

6:40 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Crimeficreader don't worry I usually forget the translator and it was your review that made me drag this off the huge TBR pile.

Thanks Maxine and Bernadette for using the phrase "Great review"! That is better than even the BBAW nomination because you two know your onions and can write. Dorte has her bilingual blog and so do I. English and Cockney.
Sorry about the cricket Bernadette but I am sure the Australian cricketers will fight back in 2010.

Thanks for dropping by Diane you will not be disappointed reading Johan Theorin.

10:55 AM  
Blogger rich said...

I just finished "Echoes From the Dead" and rate it as one of the best mysteries that I have read this year. A great read.
Richard

4:24 PM  

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