Review: Echoes from the Dead by Johan Theorin

September 20, 2013

Author: Johan Theorin
Publisher: Transworld Publishers
Year: 2009
ISBN: 9780552774635
Rating: ★★★★½
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Johan Theorin’s Echoes from the Dead is a gripping thriller about a young boy gone missing. It is set on the mysterious, haunting island of Oland, a setting that contributes much to the atmosphere of the novel.

Fans of Swedish crime fiction can look forward to a treat in Johan Theorin’s Echoes from the Dead. It has all the requisite criteria of a gripping thriller; a story that stretches across time and an eerie atmosphere that infuses the book throughout. It is a timeless tale of betrayal and deceit. Add to it the setting: the island of Oland set in the Baltic Sea. (Johan Theorin’s mother’s family was from Oland.) The cast of people is carefully characterized. This book hooks you right from the beginning to its denouement.  Unsurprisingly, the island has its fair share of tales of strange happenings. These have been passed on by generations of fishermen, farmers and sailors.

A young boy is missing. Twenty years on, his mother Julia is still coming to terms with a disturbed past while trying to live in a fragmented present. Her father, Gerlof Davidsson, a retired sea-captain is sent a vital clue which throws their lives into disarray. It will lead them on a journey fraught with danger and guile. Does it lead them closer to knowing the whereabouts of their son and grandson? Does it bring peace to their fragile lives? Johan Theorin possesses great skill in mixing mundane details of life with menacing shadowy undercurrents. There is a figure of pure evil in the book: Nils Kant. His role both repels and fascinates us.

The people in his book are ordinary in their capacity to feel the breadth of human emotions but extraordinary in the way they transcend them. The relationship between a grieving mother and her crusty old father is limned with pathos and ultimate redemption. Youth has its limitations and the elderly surprise with their mental agility.

 The book’s blurb seeks to draw in fans of Steig Larsson by comparing the two authors. This could be because Larsson is obviously extremely well-known because of his Millennium trilogy starting with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo but I would urge you to read Johan Theorin only on his own merit. A writer with a spare economical style of writing who evokes feelings of dread and danger, longing and loss and sorrow and retribution with superb skill.

Echoes from the Dead makes for a fulfilling read. Its haunting ending will only want to you to locate more of Theorin. This is the first in his series of books set on Oland. The Swedish Academy of Crime made this book its Best First Mystery Novel when it was first published. The book has a collection of black and white photographs at the end from the author’s personal collection. Seeing these photographs helps us place the story in its context and also provides a clue into the hold the island has over his imagination. Theorin has explained each photograph and in doing so only whets our appetite for his next offering from that enchanted land. It’s a great start to a wonderful author whose firm grasp over the unsettling is evident in every page of his book. I would certainly urge you to get your own copy and embark on a journey to Oland.

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