Review 1555: The Voices Beyond

I have been reading Johan Theorin’s novels for years, ever since I picked up The Darkest Room. The Voices Beyond is one of his atmospheric thrillers set on the Swedish island of Öland in the Baltic Sea. In the case of The Darkest Room, at least, there was also an element of the supernatural. This makes an appropriate book as we’re leading up to Halloween and is also an entry for RIPXV.

The novel begins in 1930, when Gerlof (who appears in all these books) is a young man helping out as a gravedigger. The man being buried is Edvard Kloss, of a family of wealthy farmers, and the rumor is that his two brothers killed him by toppling a wall on him. Also helping the burial that day is a teenager named Aron Fredh, rumored to be a bastard son of Edvard. When the coffin is put in the ground and they begin to cover it, everyone at the graveside hears three distinct raps, apparently coming from the coffin. The men haul the coffin back up and open it, but Edvard is definitely dead. However, his brother Gilbert falls over dead from the shock.

Sixty years later, Gerlof is a retired sea captain staying for the summer in his cottage on the beach in Stevnik. One night when he is sleeping in the boathouse, he is awakened by a terrified boy, Jonas Kloss. Jonas tells him that he was floating on a rubber dinghy when a large ghost ship nearly ran him over. He saved himself by grabbing a dangling rope and was able to get aboard. There he saw dead sailors on the deck and a young man chasing another sailor with an ax. Up in the wheelhouse was an old man. Jonas thinks he has seen the young man before.

Gerlof helps Jonas figure out that the young man sold him movie tickets the year before, so they are able to identify him as Pecka. Although Gerlof asks the boy not to tell anyone this, Jonas confides in his Uncle Kent. Soon Pecka is dead.

Intermittently, we learn the story of Aron Fredh, whose stepfather Sven reportedly took him away to America in 1930, and they were never heard from again. But Sven, a dedicated socialist, actually took him to the Soviet Union, where they lived a brutal life and Aron managed to survive the Great Purge.

Eventually, Gerlof realizes that the old man is Aron Fredh, pursuing some kind of vendetta against the Klosses. But how to find him?

Theorin does something really interesting with these characters that I don’t want to reveal. Let me just say that everything is not what it seems.

Although none of Theorin’s books has been quite as memorable as The Darkest Room, they have all been good, and I think this one is more memorable than the last couple.

Related Posts

Echoes from the Dead

The Darkest Room

The Quarry

Day 750: The Quarry

Cover for The QuarryThe Quarry is the third of Johan Theorin’s dark novels set on Öland, an island off the coast of Sweden. The Quarry is more of a traditional mystery than my favorite of these novels, The Darkest Room, but it does have uncanny overtones.

Gerlof is an old man who has talked his family into releasing him from a retirement home so that he can return to his cottage in Stenvik near the quarry. Nearby, in the house that belonged to his friend Ernst, is Per Mörner, who inherited the house from Ernst.

Per has just had a run-in with another neighbor, Max Larsson, who almost hit Per’s son Jesper with his car. But Per has much more to worry about. His 13-year-old daughter Nilla is in the hospital with an aggressive cancer.

Per is trying to visit the hospital, but his father Jerry keeps calling him. Although Per has kept his distance from his father, who is a notorious pornographer, he has had to help him sometimes lately since he had a stroke. Jerry has difficulty talking and no use of one arm. When Per finds his father at his studio, he has been stabbed. Upstairs the house is on fire, and he realizes there are people in the rooms that he can’t get to. He is just able to get his father and himself out and thinks he sees a man leave the property.

The police find two bodies in the house—that of Hans Bremer, Jerry’s partner, and a woman. When Per asks Jerry who stabbed him, he answers “Bremer,” which doesn’t seem possible as Bremer died upstairs in the fire. Soon, both Jerry and Per begin receiving anonymous phone calls.

As new neighbors, Max and Vendela Larsson decide to throw a party for the little enclave above the quarry. Vendela is actually a local girl whose family held some secrets, one to do with the quarry.

The mystery concerns why someone is going after people associated with Jerry’s old porn business, which Per begins to investigate. But the diaries Gerloff’s wife left behind also help solve a mystery about Vendela’s family.

If you decide to read any of Theorin’s novels, I think you’ll find them difficult to put down. He has a way of building atmosphere around the history and landscape of the island, and his characters are interesting. These novels are worth searching out.

Related Posts

Echoes from the Dead

The Darkest Room

Blacklands

Day 128: Echoes from the Dead

Cover for Echoes from the DeadEchoes from the Dead is another terrific book by Johan Theorin. It is his first book, and reading it explained a few minor points about The Darkest Room for me.

Julia’s young son Jens disappeared on the island of Öland in 1972, but her father just received a package containing the little boy’s sandal. After Julia’s father takes his friends Ernst and John along to look into what happened to her son, Ernst is found dead.

For years the island’s inhabitants have heard rumors of the return of Nils Kant, a notorious murderer who disappeared just after World War II. We readers know that these two stories are connected, but not how.  Although we also know who took Jens, we don’t understand what really happened to him until the very end of the book.

Julia returns to Oland to try to figure out what happened to Jens, if she can. After years of depression, she begins to take more of an interest in life and maybe to fall in love with Lennart, the island policeman.

This novel is not as atmospheric as The Darkest Room, but it is full of characters that you begin to know. The plot is complex, interleaved with the story of what actually happened to Nils Kant back in the past.

Day Three: The Darkest Room

Cover for The Darkest RoomTie for Best Book of Week 1!

I love dark mysteries, good ghost stories, and books about family secrets. The Darkest Room by Johan Theorin, a Swedish mystery writer, is one of my discoveries from the past year. It is an excellent book, atmospheric, absorbing, part mystery and part ghost story.

Katrine and Joachim move to Öland, a large island off the coast of Sweden, with their two children. Katrine has been living on the island with the children for several months and remodeling their house while Joachim finishes up his teaching job. Katrine lived in an outbuilding of the house as a child with her artist mother.

The house itself is almost a character in this book, and the first few chapters are about its history. It was built to be the home for the families of lighthouse keepers, and two lighthouses are nearby. The walls of the house are actually built from the wood salvaged from a ship wreck, and as with any old house, many people have died there. There are local stories about the house.

Joachim has just arrived to live permanently in the house, but he needs to make one more trip to pick up a load of things from their home in an upscale neighborhood of Stockholm, a home that they had also bought and restored. On his way back to the island, he gets a confused call from the Öland police who tell him that his daughter has drowned off the pier near the house. But when he gets home, he finds it is not his daughter but Katrine who has died. The police told him the wrong name. As he tries to take care of his young children and cope with his grief, Joachim begins to think the house is haunted. And his daughter is having strange dreams about her mother.

In the meantime, a policewoman starts work at the new police post on the island. Her first investigation involves a rash of robberies of summer cottages. Another point of view is of one of the housebreakers, who is becoming dismayed by the growing violence of his partners, who have decided that they will get more by breaking into occupied houses. The atmosphere and our sense of dread builds as Joachim gets a little odder and the housebreakers become more vicious.

And let’s not forget that we don’t actually understand the circumstances of Katrine’s death.

I was especially impressed by Theorin’s skill in revealing important pieces of information naturally throughout the book instead of laying them out at the beginning. For example, early on Joachim has a few stray thoughts about a woman. He feels some guilt about her but we don’t know why or who she is. We find out later, naturally, as Joachim thinks about her, in addition to some other facts that turn out to be important to the plot. This technique doesn’t seem artificial at all, but more organic and reflective of how thoughts and memory actually work.

I’ve read one other book by Theorin, also set on Öland. I can’t wait to read more.