Having enjoyed his first novel Echoes from the Dead, I couldn't wait to embark on Johan Theorin's second The Darkest Room. The back cover synopsis seemed fine, but then I read some online reviews. I am a bit of a purist when it comes to crime fiction, so when I read the words "ghost story", I was worried I wouldn't enjoy the book. However, this is the second novel I have read in succession that demanded my attention over three major sittings. (More on the other later in the week as I am tying in a tête-à-tête with the author.)
The titles could be interchangeable for this novel as there are plenty of echoes from the dead in The Darkest Room. Katrine and Joakim Westin decide to leave Stockholm for a better quality of life in the country with their two young children. Their new home is the old manor house at Eel Point, on the island of Oland. Unfortunately, it is a property with a history of tragedy dating back to the latter half of the nineteenth century and that tragedy does not stop with the arrival of the Westins. Only days after Joakim joins his family there, Katrine is found dead, drowned. His sense of loss is made all the more deep by a mistake on the part of the police; he was travelling back from Stockholm expecting to comfort his wife having been told that it was their daughter who had drowned.
This brooding island of the dark also has more contemporary matters of criminal intent to deal with as a set of young men start a campaign of burglary across the island. As Christmas approaches and with the escalating involvement of drugs, the attacks are no longer limited to second homes, becoming ever more violent. But help is at hand for rookie cop Tilda Davidsson in the form of her great uncle Gerlof, whom we met in Echoes from the Dead. He may be holed up in a retirement home, but he knows what matters when it comes to island life and he also knows where the eagle-eyes live.
While The Darkest Room is a great exploration into the affects of grief – involving the aforementioned impact of ghosts – it demands that the reader turns the pages, as from the outset you know that the worst is actually yet to come. As with all families, there are secrets; and there is quite a few to make a gluttony of them that Theorin carefully drip feeds into the plot.
The wonderfully original aspect of The Darkest Room is that the suspense comes from finding out what really happened from a myriad of obscure routes, with the reader not fully comprehending the extent of issues to be resolved at the outset. The wonderfully brilliant aspect of reading The Darkest Room is the feeling of satisfaction on reaching the end and the sense of time well-spent with an author who knows how to entertain, whilst exploring the darker recesses of the mind; for The Darkest Room in Theorin's novel is in the mind.
This is not a crime fiction novel in the traditional mode of thinking, but its originality is a very welcome addition to the genre. The ghosts are echoes in the mind, from the dead, a function of how grief may be dealt with in the living. So for this "purist", nothing disappointed. For all the nastiness in this novel, the balance of humanity is also there.
I will certainly read more from Theorin and look forward to it. However, I think I'll skip a visit to Oland during winter months as it sounds ghastly and I don't have the necessary clobber. I can understand why Gerlof doesn't get out more often. But what a gem he is, within his room at the home. He can see beyond the obvious, so read it to find out!