Reviewed by Ian Giles in SBR 2017:2
Review Section: Crime
Slutet på sommaren is the first published standalone novel of former police officer Anders de la Motte. Since turning his hand to writing in 2010, de la Motte has written his Game Trilogy, ostensibly in the crime fiction genre, and started his David Sarac series, which falls more into the thriller category. This time he brings us what we might call a suspense novel, although that didn’t stop it from being shortlisted for last year’s Best Swedish Crime Novel Award by the Swedish Academy of Crime Writers.
In the late summer of 1983, five-year-old Billy disappears while playing in the garden one evening on a farm just outside the rural town of Reftinge in Skåne, presumably located just up the road from Håkan Nesser’s fictional Kymlinge. The first thirty chapters alternate between the present (2003) and those sticky summer days. In 2003, we see the world through the eyes of Veronica, Billy’s sister, a young therapist who lives a solitary life in Stockholm and who seeks solace and distraction in the grief of others. In 1983, we are taken through the search for Billy – all that is found is a shoe in a nearby cornfield – and the fruitless missing person inquiry through the eyes of Chief of Police Krister Månsson, himself an outsider trying to fit into a closed rural community. A fumbling investigation, not helped by the involvement of Malmö CID, who manage to find a murder suspect but fail to secure any evidence, is eventually closed without finding Billy or any answers. In the present day, a mysterious man with an uncanny likeness to a computer-generated image of what Billy would have looked like twenty years later comes to Veronica’s group therapy session. All of this lays the foundations for a page-turning experience.
Veronica is drawn back home to Reftinge to uncover the events of twenty years earlier, encountering predictable resistance in small-town Sweden from reluctant locals under pressure from big farming, in the shape of her patriarchal uncle. A few twists and turns later, the novel reaches a satisfying and largely unexpected resolution without engaging in too much far-fetched drama along the way.
It is a little confusing to read a new book that is set almost fifteen years ago without any comment, although this – along with a convenient restraining order against the protagonist – ensures that mobile phones make almost no intrusions into this book. Occasional anachronisms have slipped in – would a rural mum really fax a photograph to the police in 2003, and would photos taken at a wedding in the 1970s really all be in black and white? In the end, the strength of the plot and writing overcomes quirks like this, and there was no occasion when it felt as if I was reading unnecessary content. While some critics in Sweden have struggled to reconcile the melancholic tone of the novel with De la Motte’s previous work, all seem agree that his change in tack is an accomplished one.
De la Motte’s writing pedigree is aptly demonstrated by the success he has enjoyed with the Swedish Academy of Crime Writers in recent years. Foreign language rights have already been sold in nine territories, and it seems likely that HarperCollins will be snapping up English-language rights to this very soon. In the unlikely event that they don’t, there will be plenty of others eager to take this title on. Ultimately, this is an engaging and enjoyable book to read, and I think British readers will agree.