Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Quarry, by Johan Theorin

Transworld/Doubleday, 2011
originally published as Blodläge, 2010
translated by Marlaine Delargy
409 pp
note: US release date unknown; I'm also not sure, but I think the title is also going to undergo a change to The Place of Blood. If that's bad information, could someone leave a comment, please? Thanks!


The Quarry, book #3 in Theorin's Öland Quartet, follows in the footsteps of his first two most excellent novels, Echoes from the Dead and The Darkest Room.  Once again, Theorin has delivered a winner, set on the island of Öland in Sweden. It is the Spring segment of the quartet, beginning in the month of March.

As the novel opens, Gerlof Davidsson (a recurring character in these books), currently living in a retirement home on the island, decides after watching the undertakers come to take away a fellow resident that he just wants to go home to Stenvik. He has a small cottage, he's 83 and figures it's better to be at home for his remaining years. He whiles away the time making ships in a bottle, for which he is quite well paid.  But there are a few new faces in the neighborhood on Gerlof's return: in the small cottage of his old friend Ernst now lives Per Mörner, divorced, father of two, who does market research for a living.  Per's daughter, Pernilla, is quite ill, so he makes the best of his time with the two children at the cottage until she absolutely must be hospitalized.   In one of the two new luxury homes on the eastern side of the nearby quarry live Max and Vendela Larsson.  Max authors self-help books and is currently engaged in writing a cookbook; Vendela grew up on the island and has decided that the time is right to return after having been away for a long time.

Per's only other relative is his father, Jerry Morner (a name he took on for himself earlier), but Jerry lives alone elsewhere, and has had a stroke so doesn't communicate well.  Per is estranged from his father for the most part, although he had promised his mother that he would look out for him. One day Per gets a call from his father, and driving out to see him, just happens to arrive as Jerry's house goes up in flames, clearly a move motivated to cause Jerry's death.   Although Jerry's dad comes out relatively okay, two people were left in the house to die. The police realize right away that it's a case of both arson and murder, and now Per decides to take Jerry home with him to the cottage in Stenvik.  He is reluctant to do so; their estrangement was caused by Jerry's less than savory past career as a photographer.  And from here, the storyline cuts into several directions: Per begins to investigate his father's past so as to try to figure out who would want to hurt him; Vendela's past life on the island becomes a story of its own; Gerlof Davidsson, now home, decides maybe it's time to read his dead wife's old diaries.  Theorin alternates between the three plotlines, alternating the present with the past, putting together a haunting story where all the threads come together  toward the end of the novel. 

This constant interweaving of past with present is a signature trait of Theorin's writing, and he does it well.  While you're reading in the present, you want to go back to the past and vice versa.  And all along, he envelops his reader in a dense atmosphere that becomes more palpable the further in the story you go.  Of all of the Swedish writers I've read, Theorin is the best at placing his readers into the local scene, so that you see each tree, feel the weight of the stones in the quarry and hear feet crunching in the snow.  Seriously, this author's forté is his great evocation of a sense of place, but not far behind are his characterizations.  Each and every person in this novel has a distinct personality -- with his or her own internal issues, problems, emotions -- all of which come through clearly and realistically so that it is easy to engage with all of them, rather than just a few here or there.  And Theorin's incorporation of local myth and legend is at the same time imaginative and rational, and adds another dimension to the plotlines. And let me add that the translator has done a great job -- I would imagine that it's not easy to convey the depth of atmosphere in a language change, but somehow, she's managed to do so.

The Quarry will hook the reader at page one and keep him or her reading until the book is finished. The suspense builds slowly throughout the story until you're so caught up in the story that you cannot put the book down, even though it weighs in at 400+ pages.  I should know; I stayed up an entire night until the book was over because I couldn't wait to see what the heck was going to happen next -- the action moves quickly from scene to scene so that the length of the book just doesn't matter.  You don't really need to have read the first two novels beforehand, but why wouldn't you? I'd definitely recommend this novel to readers of Scandinavian crime fiction, readers of atmospheric crime fiction in general, and especially to anyone who might want to try Theorin as an author for the first time. You're in for such a treat!

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