THE DARKEST ROOM by Johan Theorin
“This is where my book begins, Katrine, the year when the Manor House at Eel Point was built. For me the manor was more than a house where my mother and I lived, it was the place where I became an adult.
Ragnar Davidsson, the eel fisherman, once told me that large parts of the manor were built with salvaged cargo from a German vessel carrying timber. I believe him. On the wall at the far end of the hayloft, the words “in memory of Christian Ludwig” are carved into one of the planks.
I have heard the dead whispering in the walls. They have much to tell.”
Review by Sudheer Apte (NOV 7, 2009)
Off the east coast of Sweden, on the Baltic sea, is the island of Oland, historically populated by fishermen and farmers. Swedish author Johan Theorin knows the area well, and he has used its cold, forbidding terrain as well as rich legends to great effect in both of his mystery novels so far.
The second of these novels, published as “Nattfaak” in Sweden last year, won numerous awards. Its English translation, The Darkest Room, is now available through Random House, and we are lucky to be able to enjoy it.
A young couple, Joakim and Katrine Westin, move from the big city of Stockholm with their two little children to the quiet island. They buy the fictitious Eel Point manor near a pair of lighthouses, and set out to refurbish it. A large, old house with centuries of history, the manor seems to hold stories of lives gone by: we hear some of these as introductory snippets or as interleaved passages with the main narrative. The creaks and groans of the house’s frame in the strong sea winds seem to replay tragedies and menace from decades and centuries ago.
But The Darkest Room is no cheap ghost thriller: far from it. As the couple starts settling in, we learn gradually that Katrine has a strong connection with the manor—her mother Mirja Rambe, a Bohemian single woman, once lived on the property with her own mother, a famous artist. Mirja is full of stories about the manor, but it is not clear how many of them are true. Moreover, we learn later on that the couple’s move to the country was not just a move away from the city life, but in fact had rather traumatic reasons behind it.
The island is not welcoming at all, and in the first few pages, tragedy strikes our young couple, which sends Joakim reeling and unable to sleep. Meanwhile, a gang of three bored young men is loose on the island, doing drugs and breaking into houses to steal things, just as a freshly minted policewoman is posted to keep law and order. The policewoman, Tilda Davidsson, has her hands full fighting for respect from her male chauvinist colleagues, and on the side she is discovering more details about her own connection to the island and the manor, by interviewing her old uncle. When we meet her, she is additionally in the middle of a messy affair of her own.
The novel is exquisitely plotted. Every character, no matter how minor, turns out to be important to the story. And slowly, convincingly, loose strings turn out to lead to knots of deceit, subterfuge, and murder. The crimes are, for the most part, not ordinary ones. Because of the careful order in which Theorin exposes his facts, a rich seam of motives of various people is uncovered, along with themes of grief and loss. The crime story is very logical, and it is enhanced by strong suggestions of the supernatural and by a fantastic sense of place. (Ttanslated by Marlaine Delargy.)
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 19 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Delta (September 29, 2009)|
|AMAZON PAGE:||The Darkest Room|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Official website for Johan Theorin
Wikipedia page on Johan Theorin
|MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION:||Other supernatual mysteries of note:
Isabella Moon by Laura Benedict
A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick
And more set in Sweden:
The Girl in the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
Box 21 by Anders Roslund and BÃ¶rge HellstrÃ¶m