Welcome to Murder by the Book's blog about what we've read recently. You can find our website at www.mbtb.com.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Darkest Room, by Johan Theorin, translated by Marlaine Delargy, c2008 ($15)

Here's a book to read in a well-lit room on a dark and stormy night.

I applaud Delta Publishing for giving us something other than the latest Stieg Larsson or Jo Nesbø look-alike. The translation is good and retains the menacing flavor the Swedish version must have had.

This isn't a police procedural, per se, although one of the main characters is Tilda Davidsson, a new police officer assigned to the newly opened office in Marnäs on the island of Öland in the Baltic Sea, and there may have been a couple of murders. It's the story of generations of loss on the isolated island. 

Katrine and Joakim Westin and their two children have bought a house on the island where Katrine's mother and grandmother spent some formative time. They plan to restore a huge, damaged relic of a house set between two lighthouses. Once the abode of the lighthouse keepers and their staff, it appears that the hundred and fifty years of history have soaked into the timbers, along with sand and salt water.

Along with the modern story of the family adjusting to their new life and unsure if the sounds they hear are whispers of the dead or just the wind blowing through the cracks, there are older stories about the first days of the settlement and later of Katrine's mother.

From the start Johan Theorin sets the stage for a potential ghost story by mentioning some Swedish folklore that the dead gather on Christmas Eve. Then he slowly brings in elements reminiscent of "The Turn of the Screw" and "The Tell-Tale Heart." The spooky stage is impeccably set for a denouement that takes place on Christmas Eve in a once-a-century blizzard that brings all the important characters and storylines to the house at Eel Point.

Look for the appearance of Gerlof Davidsson, Tilda's great-uncle. He is my favorite character. Aside from holding the key to one of the mysteries, he can predict the weather and provides a nice touch of foreboding.

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