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by Inger Frimansson, Laura Wideburg, trans.
Pleasure Boat Studio, July 2009
304 pages
ISBN: 1929355563

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Three books by Swedish author Inger Frimansson have been translated into English, with GOOD NIGHT MY DARLING followed by a sequel, THE SHADOW IN THE WATER. This third book is a standalone that recounts the tortured family relationships of a farming family in rural Sweden.

Tobias, a semi-successful writer, has returned to the farm to help out after his elderly father falls from the hayloft and breaks his leg. It's autumn, time to bring in the cattle from their summer pasture on nearby Shame Island, where according to legend women accused of adultery or prostitution were banished, left naked to the elements to starve to death. No, we're not in hedonistic Scandinavia anymore; this is a hard-scrabble place where cell phones rarely work, labor is back-breaking, and social isolation makes the residents slightly crazy.

Tobias's mother, an Icelandic woman, took him away from the farm when he was ten years old. Now his relationship with his father is chilly and awkward. His father has remarried a much younger woman, Sabina, who moved in with Adam, her mentally disabled adult son whose primary form of communication is through Elvis songs. The three of them go to the island on a raft to bring the cattle in, helped by a hired hand with a criminal past whose cruelty surfaces when one of the cows is found injured, trapped in a rocky crevice. It's that streak of cruelty – and Tobias's growing physical attraction to Sabina - that leads them into a nightmare, one that Sabina tries to avoid by pretending nothing ever happened.

The mood of the book is claustrophobic as Frimansson delves into the lives of the father, son, step-mother, and tangential characters. Their inner thoughts and halting relationships show that their lives are, like the setting, isolated and barren. Yet the story has a mounting momentum once the reader grows accustomed to the serviceable but not particularly graceful translation. This is not a thriller in the American tradition, where the reader runs a slalom through twists and turns of the plot, nor does it provide a wide-lens social critique common to the Scandinavian crime fiction that follows the tradition of Sjöwall and Wahlöö. Instead, the focus is on individual characters and their inner lives. Suspense is built as Tobias's psychological stress ratchets up and he begins to unravel. In the end, though, it's the mentally disabled Adam who has the last word.

Kudos to the small press, Pleasure Boat Studios, for introducing yet another kind of Scandinavian crime fiction - chilly psychological suspense - to the US market.

Reviewed by Barbara Fister, July 2009

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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