“A fantastic first novel . . . haunting and lyrical.”—Guardian, London
“Theorin’s deeply disturbing debut will remind many of Henning Mankell both in its thematic intensity and dark tone.”—Publishers Weekly
“Vividly rendered . . . The fully fleshed characters and excellent plot should appeal to all crime and thriller readers.”—Booklist,starred review
About the Author
Johan Theorin was born in 1963 in Gothenburg, Sweden, and has spent every summer of his life on northern Oland. He is a journalist and scriptwriter. His second novel, Night Blizzard, will be published by Delacorte in 2009.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
56 of 56 people found the following review helpful
Engaging, and atmospheric Swedish mysteryNov. 3 2009
- Published on Amazon.com
Since I discovered Karin Fossum's "The Indian Bride" last year, I've been hooked on the mysteries/thrillers by Scandinavian authors. My favorites are Karin Fossum, Henning Mankell, Steig Larssen, Mari Jungstedt, Arnaldur Indridasson, Yrsa Sigurdardottir, and now, Johan Theorin. I picked "The Darkest Room" as a Kindle title, and did not expect to be so completely drawn in by the haunting mystery and the rich atmosphere surrounding the island of Oland, off the Swedish coast.
The main setting is Eel Point, which is made up of an imposing and historic manor house, itself built using timber from a shipwreck and thus associated with superstitions by the locals who think it cursed. This is not helped by the dark reputation it has acquired over the decades after several deaths there. The author credibly uses the flashback technique to show us the numerous tragedies that have befallen the inhabitants of Eel Point over the years since the 1800s. In the contemporary setting, the reader is introduced to Joakim and Katrine Westin, a young couple who have recently moved from Stockholm to Oland, having bought the manor house at Eel Point. Together with their two young children, Livia and Gabriel, the family is in the process of settling into their new home when tragedy strikes. Tilda Davidsson is the novice cop who assumes responsibility on the island and finds her hands full dealing with suspicious break-ins throughout the island, a complicated love affair, and also a great-uncle who is recounting old family stories to her.
The different story arcs are well-explored and credibly told, with a cast of interesting characters that are also explored at length, especially the main characters, i.e. Joakim and Tilda. These are complex characters that draw readers into their confused and complicated worlds, and elicit one's empathy. There is a great sense of atmosphere throughout this novel, especially of the harsh winter climate, as portrayed through the unforgiving blizzard 3/4 into the novel. Elements of the supernatural are also explored, but without an element of the fantastic, instead it is seamlessly woven into the fabric of the story so as to render it altogether credible. The descriptions of the manor house, the two lighthouses, and the rest of Oland enhance the atmosphere in the novel. "The Darkest Room" will appeal to fans of atmospheric mysteries, and has all the elements essential to good storytelling - a compelling and unpredictable plot, interesting multifaceted characters as well as high atmosphere and vivid descriptions. Highly recommended!
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
Another Henning Mankell?Dec 8 2009
- Published on Amazon.com
Unfortunately, some of the reviews here have revealed too much of the plot, thus robbing future readers of some very nice surprises.
Having said that, in my opinion Johan Theorin is well on his way to becoming as big a writer as Henning Mankell. Like Mankell, this author's writing transcends the mystery genre and becomes literature. And fans of Scandinavian mysteries (of which I am one) will appreciate Theorin's wonderful descriptions of the Swedish island's fierce landscape and weather, almost transforming them into major characters.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
"The dead are trying to reach us."Oct. 24 2009
- Published on Amazon.com
Johan Theorin's "The Darkest Room," expertly translated by Marlaine Delargy, takes place on a desolate island named Öland off the coast of Sweden, facing the Baltic Sea. Eel Point has a bleak history, and some claim that the spirits of those who died here still make their presence known to the living. In a series of flashbacks, the author provides disturbing snapshots of a series of tragedies that, he implies, has marked Eel Point as a place forever corrupted by evil. The Westin family is oblivious to this when they move into a "magnificent lighthouse keeper's manor house" that dates back to the mid-nineteenth century. Joakim and Katrine Westin have been married for seven years. They have a talent for restoring and decorating old homes and Katrine has already started working her magic on this one. When Joakim joins her and their two young children after he finishes his work on the mainland, he plans to help his wife complete the renovations.
Eel Point's bad karma may indeed be a factor when disaster strikes and Joakim is left to pick up the pieces. Little does he know that other dramas are playing out on the island, as well. A small band of thieves have started targeting uninhabited homes, and they soon set their sights on making larger hauls from houses whose owners are asleep. In addition, a twenty-seven year old police officer named Tilda Davidsson, who has just started a new job at Marnäs, is paying frequent visits to her grandfather's brother, former sea captain Gerlof Davidsson. At eighty, the old man remains extremely sharp. Not only does he have an excellent memory, but he enjoys solving difficult puzzles and finding connections that others miss. All of these plot threads eventually converge in a most unpredictable manner.
A host of Scandinavian authors have taken America by storm, and Theorin deserves to take his place among the best of them. "The Darkest Room" combines a number of elements seamlessly: police procedural, ghost story, murder mystery, and family drama. Theorin's gloomy and detailed description of the forbidding atmosphere at Eel Point foreshadows impending disaster. In good weather, Eel Point is a marvel of nature at her most beautiful, but the winters are brutal, and ferocious blizzards have been known to bear down on Oland with little warning. Snow and ice play a significant role in this narrative. Among Theorin's most intriguing characters are Joakim, a devoted father and loving husband who finds himself in a situation that he cannot control or understand; Tilda, a smart and self-confident woman who wants to prove that she can do her job as well as any man; Karine's mother, Mirja, a hard-drinking and self-indulgent individual who has little time for her family; and Gerlof, the voice of reason, whose wisdom and objectivity prove to be invaluable. Lovers of intricate psychological thrillers will be mesmerized by this chilling novel, which has an electrifying conclusion that few will see coming.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
One of the best Scandinavian mystery writers todayApril 4 2010
Cathy G. Cole
- Published on Amazon.com
Schoolteacher Joakim Westin has finally tied up all loose ends and has made the move from Stockholm to join his wife Katrine and their two small children in their new home on Eel Point on the island of Öland. Katrine has made great strides in remodeling the large home while Joakim was in Stockholm, and he's looking forward to joining with her to finish it up.
One day Joakim comes home to discover that Katrine has drowned in shallow water near Eel Point's twin lighthouses. Although the police proclaim it an accident, Tilda Davidsson, a cop new to the area, isn't convinced and conducts her own investigation in her free time. And while a burglary ring breaks into summer homes and Tilda quietly gathers information, the grieving Joakim and his children feel that Katrine is somehow still with them.
Once again the setting is Öland, an island that the author is very familiar with, having spent many childhood summers there. Theorin's family, sailors and farmers, has lived on the island for generations. His physical knowledge of the area has combined with the stories and the history of the place to make wonderfully atmospheric books. The Darkest Room, in many ways, is even more atmospheric and horripilating than his first book, Echoes From the Dead, which I also loved.
A thin thread links this second book to the first, since Tilda Davidsson is the great niece of Gerlof Davidsson who played such a large role in Echoes From the Dead. Joakim Westin grieves so much for his wife that it's not always certain whether what he's seeing and hearing is really there. The three burglars are unpredictable, and that increases the sense of unease. And then Theorin weaves in the stories and histories of Eel Point from several generations. Each story explains a bit more. Each history illuminates another small dusty corner.
"A house built with timber that dying sailors had clung to in despair before the sea took them-- should my mother and I have known better than to move in there at the end of the 1950s? Should you and your family really have moved there thirty-five years later, Katrine?"
If you don't believe in spirits or places that are haunted by their histories, you may very well undergo a sea change while reading The Darkest Room. Within the space of two superbly crafted books, Johan Theorin has become one of my favorite writers.
Now if I'd just stop sitting here looking over my shoulder....
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Patches On The CorneaApril 14 2010
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
So, this is one of those cold, dark Scandinavian thrillers that seem to be all the rage since Smilia's Sense of Snow took the English-reading world by, ahem, storm. I bought it to have fun and to test the Kindle format once again. I have no complaints about the Kindle here, and the book was fun, without the literary pretensions - which fall flat on their face in the snow - of the Smilia book.
The book is essentially a series of mysteries nested around one central murder/mystery complemented by a series of unreliable narratives nested around one reliable one - which I challenge anyone to guess correctly before the last five pages! Even then, it would be simply that, a guess, since the clues that lead to the culprit aren't revealed until the culprit is revealed. As has been noted, the book is wonderfully atmospheric: twin lighthouses, those short Scandinavian Winter days, historical flashbacks and, of course, that ever so mysterious room.
In many ways, as regards the "ghosts" or the "supernatural" here, I was reminded several times whilst reading the book of Henry James's The Turn of The Screw, which is only a ghost story if you already believe in ghosts. To quote from a bit of dialogue here:
"Gerlof shook his head. `I neither believe nor don't believe,' he said. `I do collect ghost stories, but not in order to prove anything. And of course there are so many theories about ghosts...that they are part of the framework of old houses, or electromagnetic radiation.'
`Or just patches on the cornea,' said Joakim."
Throughout the book, anything in any way ghostly is always attributable to something in the physical world, which is eerie enough as it is. It's up to the reader to decide if he/she wants to go further - though the last sentences of the book wrap things up with a nice poetic turn:
"That's what we all will be one day. Memories and ghosts."
In conclusion, a fun, well-penned read that will keep the most inveterate mystery readers guessing until the final turn of the page.