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Johan Theorin, Blodläge (A Place of Blood)

Wahlström & Widstrand,  2010. ISBN: 9789146220589

Reviewed by Marlaine Delargy in SBR 2010:2

English Translation: The Quarry, translated by Marlaine Delargy. Doubleday, 2011. ISBN 9780385619295.

Blodläge is the third in Johan Theorin’s quartet of novels set on the island of Öland, and as with Skumtimmen (Echoes from the Dead) and Nattfåk (The Darkest Room), the island, its history and its legends have a key role to play. Each novel is set in a different season, and we have now reached spring, a time of hope and optimism, as the days lengthen and the first butterflies begin to appear. Per Mörner has inherited his uncle’s old cottage near the quarry in Stenvik, and is about to spend his first Easter holiday there with his teenage children Nilla and Jesper. A combination of circumstances mean that he ends up looking after his father Jerry, whose working life centred on the porn industry. But who set fire to Jerry’s house, and whose are the two bodies found in the burning building? Is there a connection with Jerry’s unsavoury past? When Jerry dies after being deliberately run down by a car, Per feels compelled to launch his own investigation, despite the fact that his daughter is readmitted to hospital with cancer, waiting for a critical and risky operation. Two impressive new houses have been built nearby as summer homes for wealthy families from Stockholm – Marie and Christer Kurdin and their baby son, and Max and Vendela Larsson.Vendela grew up on the island, and is still fascinated by the tales her father used to tell of the elves and trolls who also lived there. She has a strong belief that the elves are friendly creatures who like to help human beings, and as a child she would frequently leave small gifts of coins or jewellery on the ‘elf stone’, making a wish which was almost always granted – although not always in the way she might have expected. Returning to the island as an adult and secretly writing a book about the elves, Vendela resumes her habit of visiting the stone and leaving small tokens as she makes a wish.The story of her past is interwoven with the present, and Vendela’s tale is the embodiment of the warning ‘be careful what you wish for’. She is a well-rounded and interesting character, and her marriage to the arrogant and overbearing Max is portrayed convincingly. A familiar figure from the previous two novels makes a welcome return: Gerlof Davidsson has had enough of sitting in the care home at Marnäs, observing the regular visits of the funeral director and waiting to die. He returns to his old cottage in Stenvik, where he finds his late wife’s diaries and, against his better judgement, begins to read them.Who is the mysterious child, the ‘changeling’ who would visit Ella while Gerlof was at sea? As usual, Gerlof is unable to resist a mystery, and eventually applies his sharp mind to Per’s problems as well. As in Theorin’s previous novels, there is conflict between past and present, between the islanders and those from the mainland, and between tradition and tourism.The strengths of this novel lie in its characters, in the depiction of family relationships, and in the author’s ability to create a striking atmosphere. Theorin remains a fine storyteller, and once again the history and legends of Öland are vividly brought to life. The strands involving the different characters do have a tendency to run parallel rather than interweaving successfully, and the mystical and realistic elements of the story never quite come together as they have done in the previous novels; however, this is a thoroughly enjoyable story, and is well worth reading.

Also by Johan Theorin

  • Sankta Psyko (Saint Psycho's). Reviewed by Martin Murrell in SBR 2012:1.

Other reviews by Marlaine Delargy

Other reviews in SBR 2010:2

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