Echoes from the Dead by Johan Theorin

Johan Theorin
Translated by Marlaine Delargy

Echoes From the Dead is as unexpected as it is wonderful. The novel revolves around the disappearance of five-year-old Jens Davidsson from an island home twenty years before. Now, his grandfather Gerlof who lives in a retirement home has received a package in the mail which contains one of Jens’ sandals. Gerlof calls his estranged daughter Julia, Jens’ mother, a nurse whose life has degenerated into depression and alcohol abuse, and the two of them slowly begin their revitalized search for the boy’s fate.

Also on the island is a wealthy family whose son, Nils Kant, committed a series of murders, then fled – many years before Jens’ disappearance. Theorin does a masterful job connecting the two cases with seemingly unrelated facts and the chance meeting of the boy and man in the prolog. He reinforces that connection by writing the story in two threads: the first, the search by Julia and Gerlof written in the present time; and the second, the life of Nils Kant, written in the past.

The novel is set in the stark landscape of Oland, an island off the coast of Sweden. Even though the story is framed as a mystery, it is the depth of character – of Julia, of Nils Kant, and most of all, of Gerlof, a retired sea captain beset with physical infirmaries, that drives the novel. This is Gerlof’s story more than the others, and in the end, his bittersweet triumph.

We expect to discover the connection between Nils Kant and Jens’ disappearance in the end but Theorin easily exceeds our expectations with an outcome both amazing in its convoluted logic, and in retrospect, almost inevitable. Finally, it is the evolution of the relationship between Gerlof and Julia, father and daughter, that make this an extremely satisfying work.

The novel was translated from the Swedish by Marlaine Delargy who also does the Asa Larsson mysteries. With many foreign works, the reader is sometimes jarred by inappropriate idiom or language. There is none of that here. The novel’s excellence in English is a testament to the partnership between writer and translator.

Highly recommended.

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