This is the third in Johan Theorin’s Öland Quartet, a series of four crime novels set on the Swedish island of Öland. Each book in the series is set during a different season, with the changes in weather and landscape affecting the mood and atmosphere of the story. I loved the first two books, Echoes from the Dead and The Darkest Room, so I was looking forward to my third visit to Öland. I couldn’t wait to meet my favourite character, Gerlof Davidsson, again and to find out what life on the island was like during the spring months.
In The Quarry, Gerlof is now eighty-three years old and, deciding he doesn’t want to spend the remainder of his life in the residential care home he’s been living in, he moves out and returns to his old cottage in the village of Stenvik. Once back in his own home, he finds some of his late wife’s old diaries written while he was away at sea many years earlier. What he discovers in the diaries could be connected to the story of Vendela Larsson, who has recently moved into a luxury house nearby with her husband, Max. Vendela grew up on the island listening to her father’s tales of myths and legends, and returning to Öland as an adult she finds herself wondering whether the elves and trolls she believed in as a child might really exist.
Meanwhile, Gerlof and Vendela also have another new neighbour: Per Mörner, a divorced father, who has inherited his uncle’s cottage beside an abandoned quarry. Per is looking forward to spending the Easter holidays there with his two children, but he has to change his plans when his daughter becomes seriously ill and his father, Jerry, is almost killed in an arson attempt. Per has barely spoken to Jerry for years but feels obliged to help him, and when he begins to investigate he becomes drawn into his father’s sordid past.
“If you like Stieg Larsson, try a much better Swedish writer” it says on the back cover of this book. I can’t comment on that as I’ve never read Stieg Larsson and am not an expert on Swedish crime fiction, but I would certainly be happy to recommend Theorin’s Öland novels. They are all standalone stories and with the exception of Gerlof, they have different characters so can be read in any order, though I would suggest leaving The Quarry until you’ve read the previous two as I found this one the weakest book of the three.
I still love Gerlof and enjoyed being reacquainted with him. I can only hope that I’m as independent, alert and intelligent as he is when I’m in my eighties! I also liked Per, who was doing his best to deal with his various problems including his daughter Nilla’s illness and his difficult relationship with Jerry. And as usual, the descriptions of the island of Öland are beautifully written. This book is set in the spring, as the last of the winter snows are melting away, so the story is not quite as dark as the first two but there’s still a feeling of loneliness and isolation. The translator, Marlaine Delargy, deserves a word of praise for not losing any of the atmosphere or sense of place.
So why didn’t I enjoy this book as much as the others in the series? The reason, I think, was that Vendela’s story, filled with folklore and magical stories of battles between elves and trolls, didn’t really work very well with the other main storyline. Although I was interested in the fates of both Vendela and Per, I thought their stories could have been the subjects of separate books rather than being combined in the same novel and because of this, I found The Quarry less satisfying than Echoes from the Dead and The Darkest Room (the best of the three, in my opinion). I was disappointed after loving the first two so much, but that won’t stop me reading more Johan Theorin books in the future.