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The Darkest Room: A Novel Paperback – Sep 29 2009
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“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.See all Product Description
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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!
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.
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.
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....
The unsolved crime here is the murder of a woman by drowning, an event initially viewed as an accident. On page 430 we discover the truth of the matter. Nothing in the intervening pages dealing with ghosts or the spirits of the dead have anything to do with the discovery of the truth. In fact an elderly man using his own life experiences and his powers of deduction laid out the essential facts that led to the woman's death.
I gave this book two stars because of the elderly man's detective work. I give the rest of the crew failing marks.