The Voices Beyond by Johan Theorin

25436079The final book in the Oland Quartet, The Voices Beyond by Johan Theorin, is quite different to the other three, but no less impressive. While it doesn’t quite have the haunting, almost dream-like and supernatural quality of the other three (mainly because the majority of the tale is set mostly in the present), it does have a sense of suspense and impending peril, almost from the very first page.

Like the other three books, certain familiar characters are present, Gerlof Davidsson, the elderly grandfather who has appeared in all books, plays a major role, not just as a touchstone for the residents of the island and the history that he’s borne witness too, but also for the younger generations who either live or holiday upon the isle. One of the newcomers is a boy, Jonas Kloss, nephew of the owner of a big and profitable resort on the island that is filled to the brim with tourists each summer – this one being no exception.

Arriving with his ex-con father and older brother, Jonas is given tasks to perform but also plenty of free time. When his older brother and cousins abandon him one night, Jonas sets out on a midnight ride in an inflatable boat, drifting with the tide, dreaming of what might be. When he is almost sunk by a ship that emerges out of the dark and his forced to clamber aboard, he bears witness to something that absolutely terrifies him. Fleeing, he dives off the ship, risking death by drowning rather than remaining onboard. He arrives on shore, wet, shaken, only to be found by Gerlof who provides him succour, listening to the boy’s tale of zombies and murderers with a healthy dose of cynicism.

But if there’s one thing readers of this series understand about Gerlof it’s that he has an open mind and heart and is slow to dismiss even the incredible. When other strange things begin to happen on the island and other people connected to the Klosses are either murdered or disappear, Gerlof understands something greater is afoot, something that has its roots in Oland’s past. If there’s something Gerlof excels at, it’s linking the present with the past and so begins another investigation into Oland’s inhabitants, its history and the reason behind one man’s dreadful and long awaited revenge…

Beautifully paced and written, this is a terrific conclusion to a fabulous series that draws on familiar characters while introducing us to some new ones as well. The landscape of the island and, indeed, of Sweden itself and the other lands invoked by this tale become as much a character as the wonderfully crafted people. This book was so hard to put down, yet I didn’t want to finish it either.

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The Quarry by Johan Theorin

11479983The third book in The Oland Quartet, The Quarry by Johan Theorin, follows the same sort of pattern established in the first two. While we have some of the same characters reappearing (the Davidsson family, in particular, Gertlof is the anchor or common thread that loosely links these marvellous tales), each novel centres on newcomers or new characters to the island and a mystery and/or tragedy surrounding them.

In this book, the newcomers are the Morner family: Pers and his two children. Pers inherited a cottage by the quarry from a character who played a minor role in the first book and briefly appeared in the second, Ernst, who made unusual and sought-after sculptures from the rock hewn from the quarry, and was a good friend of elderly resident, Gertlof.

Arriving to celebrate Easter, divorced Pers is looking forward to some time with his children, teenage twins, only his daughter is sick with an undiagnosed but debilitating illness and is placed suddenly in hospital, while his son seems more interested in his Gameboy than spending time with either his father or ailing sister. When an urgent call comes through from Pers’ estranged father, Jerry, who recently had a stroke and finds it difficult to communicate, Pers is forced to leave the island and go to his aid. When he arrives to pick him up in his office in the woods, what he finds is destruction and death.

Returning to Oland, Pers begins to realise that whoever is targeting his father is after anyone associated with his infamous parent’s former business and that he must look to the past to discover who it is that’s out for revenge before it’s too late…

In the meantime, his daughter’s disease and prognosis worsens, he meets the other residents old and new who also have houses around the quarry and their own secrets and histories – some of whom will impact upon him and his family as well.

Segueing again between past and present in order to create a slow reveal of the truth, Theorin masterfully controls the narrative. I love the way he blends local myth into the story and the childhood need and desire to believe in the fantastical – and for a whole variety of reasons. I also enjoy how he spares us that sometimes painful adult awakening to reality – well, he doesn’t spare us so much as gently let his characters and thus, the reader, down.

Beautifully written, the island and its distinct seasons, the characters that populate it, and the history that’s leeched into its alvar, sands and now quarry, come alive in this spell-binding book.

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Echoes From the Dead by Johan Theorin

11479981Echoes From the Dead by Johan Theorin is such a marvellous, evocative and yet also oppressive book to read. Set on the Swedish Island of Oland, it tells the story of Julia Davidsson whose six-year-old son, Jens, went missing on the fog-bound alvar (marshes/fields) of the island over twenty years earlier. When her mostly estranged elderly father, who has abandoned his home on the isle and thus independence for the comfort of a nursing home, is sent her son’s sandal in the post, it not only reopens wounds Julia has never allowed to heal, but sends her back to the island she left all those years ago and the memories it holds in order to discover the truth of her son’s disappearance.

Tied in with Julia, Jens and Julia’s father’s story is that of the island’s resident sociopath, Nils Kant. Believed dead and buried long ago, stories about Nils as a violent boy and later, as an aggressive and exiled man, continue to swirl, his ghost haunting not just the remaining residents, but managing to inculcate its way into Jens’ possible fate as well.

When friends of Julia’s father and others who believe Nil Kants still lives and will do anything to prevent his whereabouts from being discovered die or are silenced, Julia and her father risk their lives to discover exactly what the island of Oland is hiding.

Ostensibly a story about loss and grief, and the impact this has on an individual and families, it’s also about the way people deal with trauma and the resultant victim status that can follow. Segueing between past and present, the war and changing socio-economic circumstances of the country, island and industries, the novel cleverly situates, but never reduces, personal tragedy within a wider cultural and social picture. While the landscape and weather of Oland is stunningly created, the cold, the wind and rain and the frigid waters that lap the sands, as well as the thick fog that can descend and obscure, it’s the internal landscapes of the characters, particularly Julia’s, that are the most suffocating and, like the fog, almost impossible to escape from. Her grim reality and the demons that haunt her and heart-breaking and so very real and poignant.

Interior lives and histories are masterfully rendered and though the book is slow-moving, it is never, ever dull. On the contrary, I couldn’t put it down and despite reading closely (wrapped in a blanket with one eye over my shoulder), I never saw the tragic twist in the finale coming.

As soon as I finished, I immediately downloaded Theorin’s next novel, also set in Oland. Before I commence, I want to raise my head, absorb some light and warmth and then plunge back into what I’ve no doubt will be another delightfully gloomy prospect.

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