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Friday, January 2, 2015

The Farm by Tom Rob Smith

Grand Central Publishing, 368 pages, $26 (released 6/14)

British author Tom Rob Smith wrote an interesting and compelling series set in 1950s USSR. “Child 44,” “The Secret Speech,” and “Agent 6” are daring works, melding historical events at a tumultuous time in USSR history and the police work of his fictional character, police detective Leo Demidov.

In “The Farm,” Smith ventures into calmer territory. Based on a real-life incident when his mother called him from Sweden for help, Smith begins his fictional story with that premise. Daniel, a young man living in London, receives first a frantic phone call from his father, saying Daniel’s mother has escaped from a psychiatric institution. An institution? Then comes an ice-cold phone call from his mother, Tilde, who has moved back to her native Sweden with Chris, her British-born husband and Daniel’s father. Everyone is lying about her, she says, and there is a conspiracy afoot in Sweden to discredit her because she knows a damning secret about some men, including Chris, in her village. She’s on her way to London.

About four-fifths of the book is slow going because it contains Tilde’s painstaking (and perhaps paranoid) presentation to Daniel of the conspiracy and the evidence she has acquired. At the crux of it is a missing 16-year-old girl, Mia, the daughter of the wealthiest and most influential man in Tilde’s neck of the Swedish woods. Tilde claims Mia has been murdered, and she wants Daniel to help her take her findings to the police in England.

In contrast, the last fifth of the book races along, because it is Daniel’s story of what he finds when he flies to Sweden. Needless to say, I enjoyed this part much more.

This is a well-written book. However. 

Apparently, from the accolades the book has received, most reviewers thought this was a wonderful book. I found Tilde irritating. Her paranoia, however well-based it may be, scraped annoyingly at me. At the same time I could see how well Smith built up Tilde’s story. Painstaking narration, however, is a device that should be used sparingly. If a reader (i.e., me) doesn’t fall for the character, then the four-fifths, or whatever, of a book the author devotes to it will pass slowly.

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