“Those who have lived here in times gone by are still here,” said Gerlof, his coffee cup in his hand. “Do you think they rest only in graveyards?”
The Darkest Room is the second in a planned quartet of novels by crime writer Johan Theorin, all set on the Swedish island of Öland. In March I wrote about how much I enjoyed the first book in the series, Echoes from the Dead, and I thought this one was even better. So far I have been very impressed by these books. I would describe them as intelligent, well-written mystery novels with believable characters and one of the most vivid and atmospheric settings I’ve come across. There are surprises, revelations and plot twists but nothing that I’ve found too hard to believe. And in this second novel there’s a touch of the supernatural too, as well as some Swedish folklore.
There are three main threads which alternate throughout the novel. The first follows Joakim and Katrine Westin who have recently moved to Öland with their two young children, Livia and Gabriel. Their new home, the isolated manor house at Eel Point, has an interesting history which is slowly revealed through a number of flashbacks. The second thread features Henrik Jansson and his involvement with a pair of criminals, the Serelius brothers, who are planning a series of burglaries. And the third storyline introduces us to Tilda Davidsson, a police officer who is another new arrival on the island. Add a couple of abandoned lighthouses and a ‘sacrificial peat bog’ and it soon becomes clear that this is much more than just another haunted house story.
Although I personally prefer to read a series in the correct order if possible, it wouldn’t be necessary to read Echoes from the Dead before this one; they don’t really follow on from each other in any way. The only links that connect the two books are the Öland setting and the character of Gerlof Davidsson, a retired sea captain. He’s Tilda Davidsson’s great-uncle and with his knowledge of Eel Point and the superstitions surrounding it, she decides to enlist his help with her investigations. Gerlof, at eighty years old, again plays an important part in solving the mystery as he did in the previous book. I love Gerlof; with his independence, his quiet confidence and his ability to listen he’s a great character and it was wonderful to meet him again.
On the author’s website, Theorin states that his aim in writing the Öland quartet is to set each novel in a different season, so that the atmosphere of the story is influenced by the weather and the changing landscape. Having now read the first two books in the quartet, I can say that so far he has done this very well. The Darkest Room is set in the winter after all the summer tourists have left Öland and the island is at its most deserted. Snow storms, blizzards and relentless cold all add to the mood of the book. Theorin doesn’t give us pages and pages of lengthy descriptions of the scenery; instead, the descriptions are woven into the fabric of the story conveying both the beauty of the island and the sense of loneliness and isolation that give the setting its eerie feel. I’m now looking forward to starting the third book, The Quarry, and finding out what Öland is like in the spring!