I am going to keep this review shorter than usual because I am working on a couple of larger projects at the moment and am not writing much this week – normal service will be resumed in a few days time.
I seem to be having a binge on Scandi-crime novels this month – The Quarry is my third this year and I think it’s something to do with living in the dark days of January and feeling a touch of sympathy with those poor Swedes and Norwegians who won’t be seeing warmer weather for some time yet.
I’ve tried at least to limit my crime-binge to writers I’ve not read before such as Jan Costin Wagner, Håkan Nesser and now Johan Theorin, three authors whose books try to push the boundaries further than the average crime novel, and who have all won prizes for their work (Theorin won the Crime Writer’s Association’s International Dagger Award in 2010 for his previous book, The Darkest Room).
Theorin’s books form a quartet of novels based on the island of Öland in the Baltic Sea. Theorin has had long familiarity with Öland having been a regular visitor there from childhood and coming from a family whose antecedents lived their for centuries as sailors, fishermen and farmers. The island is noted for it’s strange folklore involving trolls and ljusalfer (a sort of elf – see the excellent Wikipedia article on Scandinavian folklore).
In The Quarry, we read of Per Morner, a divorced father of two teenagers who has taken over an old wooden house on Öland and has decided to live there for the summer while he carries on his work as a telephone pollster. Morner has two difficult situations to cope with; his daughter Nilla is in hospital undergoing investigations into a potentially dangerous medical condition. In addition to this, his elderly father Jerry has had a stroke and is no longer coping on his own – to make things more complicated, his father is a renowned pornographer whose life has been dominated by dubious business transactions and affairs with porn-stars.
Theorin creates quite a cast of characters in The Quarry, and as Per Morner arrives on the island for his summer break with his father and son in tow, he finds that near neighbour Vandela Larrson is planning to arrange a neighbourly get-together in her home so that the summer visitors can get to know each other. Vandela has history on the island and it is through her that we learn about the folk-lore and history of the place, with occasional flash-backs to her childhood on a nearby farm.
Before long Per Morner has a whole raft of problems to deal with. His daughter’s condition deteriorates rapidly and he has to engage with his ex-wife and find a way of sharing their mutual concern. In addition he has to wind up his father’s business while dealing with some ghosts from his father’s past who seem bent on retribution for offences committed during his career as a pornographer.
Vandela meanwhile is determined to commune with some of the island’s legendary creatures who seem to be able to influence her dealings with the real world despite an unpredictable capriciousness which shows that while they may give her what she asks for the actual results can be disastrous.
This was an intriguing read and I enjoyed every aspect of it. Being a thoroughly modern writer, Theorin does not of course believe in trolls and elves, but he enjoys playing with the minds of those of his characters who do. I enjoyed the almost playful folkloric aspects of the book when contrasted with the very real-world corruption of the elderly Jesper and the investigations into his seedy past. While I won’t rush into reading Theorin’s other three Öland novels I will definitely keep them around for picking up when I next require a break from more serious reading.