Monday, June 18, 2012
Echoes from the Dead by Johan Theorin
This novel has the best sense of place I’ve read in a long time. Theorin paints with a few words scattered through his dialog: sparse yellow-brown grass in a small meadow, low, gnarled juniper and moss-covered stones, wind, cold, limestone beaches, pointy firs. He writes of Öland Island, off the southeastern coast of Sweden. I waited until I finished the book to look up photographs, but you may want to have a look now. It is a large, scrubby island landscape with the ruins of a most intriguing castle.
The island is an inspired choice for a mystery setting because it has small year-round communities isolated in winter. Residents tend to be hardy and self-sufficient, relying on the ocean and the island to eke out a living. Theorin’s characters have closed personalities, with lots hidden, even from family. When a psychopath, Nils, is born into the midst of a small community, the group bears its troubles silently until Nils has to be corralled.
Theorin has made a series out of his mysteries set on Öland. It is the island that is reprised, not the characters. On his website, Theorin tells us that he wants to write a quartet of novels, one for each season of the year. Echoes of the Dead is the autumn novel. His second novel, The Darkest Room is set in the winter, and was published in 2008 to wild acclaim. Theorin’s third novel in the quartet, The Quarry, has been translated and was published last year in the UK. It should be available shortly in the U.S. An insightful reviewer has commented that Theorin is the least conventional of Swedish crime writers, and that this can be a disappointment to some, but that the “dailiness” of his novels gives readers an understanding of ordinary people’s lives. This may be the my favorite thing about these titles.
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