As in his first book, characters come first for Theorin, setting second, and then there’s a plot, but it’s happy to modestly hang about in the background, occasionally brushing past you with a touch that raises goosebumps.
A man getting ready for a new life in a big old ‘fixer-upper’ house on the island of Oland gets horrible news when he’s running some final errands in Stockholm: his wife and two children have been busy getting the house ready, and one of them has drowned. The rest of the book is about past inhabitants of the ill-fated house, the main character’s halting and inept adjustment to loss, the memories he pushes away of his junkie sister who has died but keeps reminding him of his abdication of responsibility. There’s also a young female cop starting to work on the island, her relationship with her elderly relative Gerlof (from Echoes from the Dead), a trio of young burglars headed for trouble, and lots of nasty weather, all nicely layered together in a leisurely-paced but engrossing read.
In many ways each character is trying to figure out the past and what it means to events happening now. As Gerlof says ‘I neither believe nor don’t believe . . . I do collect ghost stories, but not in order to prove anything.’ Then he tells the one time he really did have an encounter with a ghost – a story he (intriguingly) never wrote down.
Though I’m woo-woo averse, after hearing Arnaldur Indridason say in a most level-headed way that Icelandic engineers will reroute roads to avoid bothering the trolls, I take a certain amount of lightly-handled stuff like this as part of the landscape and enjoy it.
I wish the English titles were as evocative as the originals, though. I always have to look them up because I can’t remember them.