Title: Echoes from the Dead
Author: Johan Theorin
Publisher: Transworld (Black Swan)
Publishing Date: 3 July 2009 (UK)
Paperback: 480 pages
Stand Alone or series: Stand Alone
Why did I read the book: I was offered a review copy. Although I don’t read crime novels as much as I used to, I decided to give this one a try once I heard that 1) it is set in Sweden in and I am trying to expand the settings of the novels I read. 2) it won an award for best debut novel in its home country
Can you ever come to terms with a missing child?Julia Davidsson has not. Her five-year-old son disappeared twenty years previously on the Swedish island of Oland. No trace of him has ever been found.
Until his shoe arrives in the post. It has been sent to Julia’s father, a retired sea-captain still living on the island. Soon he and Julia are piecing together fragments of the past: fragments that point inexorably to a local man called Nils Kant, known to delight in the pain of others. But Nils Kant died during the 1960s. So who is the stranger seen wandering across the fields as darkness falls?
It soon becomes clear that someone wants to stop Julia’s search for the truth. And that he’s much, much closer than she thinks . . .
1972. In the island of Öland, Sweden, a young boy is spending the summer with his grandparents. His mother is out for the day, his grandmother is taking a nap and the grandfather is working on his nets at the boathouse when six year old Jens decides to go on an adventure. He climbs the small wall at the end of the garden and goes for a walk in the Alvar. Soon though, he gets lost in the spreading fog and loses his bearing. He then meets a man who introduces himself as Nils Kant and reassures him that everything will be alright. Jens is never seen again dead or alive.
20 years later, his mother Julia is still unable to let go. Living in a dingy apartment with her only companions being wine bottles and the American Shopping channel , she merely gets by and she has been on a sick leave from her job as a nurse for ages. The working explanation for her son’s disappearance is that he went towards the sea and drowned but Julia does not believe that and deep down still hopes he is alive somewhere.
Until one day she gets a phone call from her father with some disturbing news : he has received in the mail, one of Jen’s sandals – the one he was wearing on the day of his disappearance and he urges her to go back to her childhood home to investigate further. Gerlof , now a 80 year old, retired widown, lives in a nursing home and struggles to live with a crippling chronic disease and the certainty that he is old and unimportant. Together with is best friend Ernst, he has been working in a new theory about his grandson and one that involves…..Nils Kant.
Julia goes back, even if only for a couple of days and is overcome with the memories. Then, Ernst is killed and all of a sudden there is the conviction that Gerlof is on to something. But then, Julia finds out that Nils Kant has been dead for over 30 years – even before her son disappeared! What is Gerlof hitting at – is Nils Kant not really dead?
Julia’s journey through the small villages of the island and Gerlof’s attempt at playing private eye are intercalated with flashbacks of Nils Kant’s story – going back to his own dark, disturbing childhood and the death of his younger brother to the crimes he committed as a young man. We then learn that this man’s past is intertwined with that of the island and that Öland, with its past and future, is a character in itself.
Until the two narratives coincide in the most surprising way.
The alternating points of view of these three characters add an incredible insight to the story and makes Echoes from the Dead more character-driven than plot-driven. Nils ‘ obsession with the island and with his self-importance, Julia’s depression and want for closure and Gerlof’s need to prove that he is still important and that his life still matters were poignant and interesting and added a human flavour to a whodunit. The author’s description of the island was amazingly haunting and spoke of a close relationship to the place. The bleakness and the emptiness of the surroundings were immensely evocative and emphasised the sombre aspects of the three characters’ personalities.
A couple of small things did bother me and detracted from the overall enjoyment of the novel – the fact that Gerlof was a bit too aloof and too close-mouthed about his findings, choosing to reveal things little by little made me impatient. They were dealing with a possible murder investigation not with one of the stories he heard in his childhood. It was a matter of great importance and I felt that his actions and Julia’s reaction to them were not realistic. And the presence of a paranormal element, that came out of nowhere and added absolutely nothing to the story. Still, this is a pretty solid debut novel and I admired the way the plot unfolded.
A few years ago, I used to be a voracious reader of crime novels until I sort of grew tired of the genre. Echoes from the Dead was a great reminder of why I used to love whodunits and I recommend it to lovers of the genre and to those who would like a different setting.
Notable Quotes/ Part: definitely the climax of the story when everything becomes clear to the reader.
Verdict: With its interesting characters and the haunting setting and narrative, Echoes from the Dead is a solid debut novel.
Rating: 6. Good.
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