Theorin, Johan - 'Echoes from the Dead' (translated by Marlaine Delargy)
Julia Davidson has never come to terms with disappearance of her five-year-old son Jens twenty years ago when he climbed over her parents' garden wall and walked out into the fog hanging over the Swedish island of Oland. She lives a lonely life in Gothenburg existing on a diet of pills and red wine. Then one day her 80-year-old father Gerlof, a retired sea captain, phones her and tells her he has received a child's sandal in the post and that she should come back to her childhood home on Oland to help him in his search for the truth.
Julia returns to discover that Gerlof and his elderly friend Ernst Adolfsson, a stone-worker, have been investigating Nils Kant, a man with a long history of murder and brutality, whom they suspect was involved in Jens' disappearance. But Nils died in the 1960s years before Jens disappeared, even though local people see him as a scapegoat for every nasty incident on the island. When Ernst Adolfsson is found having been crushed by a large sculpture in the local quarry both Julia and Gerlof wonder if Nils Kant has indeed returned to stop their search for the truth.
This novel won Sweden's Best First Crime Novel Award and the author Johan Theorin, a journalist and scriptwriter, has been a regular visitor to the Baltic Island of Oland where his mother's family - sailors, fishermen, and farmers - have lived for centuries.ECHOES OF THE DEAD is an absolutely brilliant crime fiction novel that succeeds in creating a creepy atmosphere of brooding dark fear and drawing memorable characters that you will remember long after finishing the book. The typically Scandinavian slow paced very detailed narrative gives the reader time to get to know the four main protagonists:
Julia, emotionally damaged by the loss of Jens whose return to Oland gives her both purpose and perhaps a chance to find a new life. Her relationship with Gerlof has been strained because she partially blamed him for not being home the day Jens disappeared.
Gerlof, her father, a man struggling with the problems of old age exacerbated by Sjogren's Syndrome, a painful arthritic condition. Like many elderly people who held responsible positions during their working lives he feels neglected and patronised. The search is his way of gaining some respect.
Nils Kant, a rich spoiled child who is told he is special and tells himself that Oland is his island, with devastating results for all around him.
The island of Oland, with communities that have seen their industries of fishing and shipping decline and now rely solely on tourism for their income and survival. Anyone who has lived or worked in towns and villages that are merely weekend and summer vacation homes for the wealthy with only a small mainly elderly permanent population will identify with the people of Oland.
There is a satisfying symmetry to the construction of this novel, and it is virtually a master class in the use of an extended decades long back-story to intrigue and keep the reader turning the pages. This novel has wonderful characters with real depth, a complex but believable plot, memorable descriptions of the beautifully bleak Baltic island of Oland, and very importantly a properly paced conclusion. You might work out the solution before Gerlof does, but I am certain that won't spoil your enjoyment.
ECHOES OF THE DEAD is the most gripping crime fiction novel I have read so far this year, and I can highly recommend it to readers. The sequel, NIGHT BLIZZARD, is due to be published in 2009.
Read another review of ECHOES FROM THE DEAD.
Norman Price, England