What secrets are hidden within the walls of a desolate farmhouse in a forgotten corner of Lapland?
I was chilled by this novel from the first page, as a young girl flits through the woods, only visible in flashes of a pale, frosty moon. She is making her way towards an all-night garage and truck stop, one of those places that feel weirdly outside of time. I could already sense the isolation of this part of Sweden, so far north it’s in the region of Lapland. I could also imagine the boredom and recklessness this teenage girl feels, then I worried about the home she is from.
Then we jump to the present day. Early spring has its icy grip on Ödesmark, a small village in northernmost Sweden, abandoned by many of its inhabitants. But Liv Björnlund never left. She lives in a derelict house together with her teenage son, Simon, and her ageing father, Vidar. They make for a peculiar family, and Liv knows that they are cause for gossip among their few remaining neighbours.
Just why has Liv stayed by her domineering father’s side all these years? And is it true that Vidar is sitting on a small fortune? His questionable business decisions have made him many enemies over the years, and in Ödesmark everyone knows everyone, and no one ever forgets.
Now someone wants back what is rightfully theirs. And they will stop at nothing to get it, no matter who stands in their way…
Usually when writing about a thriller I’m talking about the build up of tension, the breakneck pace of the writing as we reach each reveal. Here Stina Jackson has done completely the opposite and it’s so effective. The pace is glacial, quiet and even contemplative. The result is that you become so lost in the pages that you forget you’re supposed to be breathing. The dreamlike quality of those first lines stays as you are introduced to Liv, working her job in a filling station. There’s a sense that time has stood still. As her father draws up in his old car to pick her up, she could still be a teenager at her Saturday job. Then we find out she has a teenage son and realise she’s older, but very little has changed for Liv. I felt that sense of suffocation, as they return to the house that’s barely standing, with no neighbours in sight, and her father ruling the roost. There’s inertia here; Liv hates being here but can’t summon up the energy to leave. She’s beaten down mentally by privation and the harshness of her father and the landscape. This isn’t a formulaic crime novel, this is also about families and all the emotions encompassed in these relationships. There’s jealousy here, hate and resentment, but also love. Yet over all of that there’s that suffocating sense of paralysis. As if nothing will ever change here.
Liv does have an escape. It’s a tried and tested escape she’s used since she was a teenager. At night she makes her way to an old cabin on their land, takes off her clothes and climbs into bed with the tenant. There’s a calm and matter of fact feel to her liaison, she’s clearly been here many times before. Maybe this is the closest she can get to a relationship. It’s a step up from her midnight travels to the truck stop and the cab of any trucker she can find. At least now she’s a woman, her father Vidar doesn’t track her down and drag her home. Vidar is harsh, cold, mean and according to local gossip, sitting on a fortune. They needn’t live the way they do. Our other perspective in the novel is that of local drug dealer, Liam and his brother Gabriel. Liam feels like Liv’s counterpoint in the novel. He wants to change his life, but is controlled by his brother who has heard of Vidar’s supposed fortune. These two families will come together in a violent and brutal way. All of these characters are so well drawn and they come to the reader in the same way people do in life. Some are open from the beginning, like Vidar who doesn’t hide his cruelty and unpleasantness. Others are more quiet and sly, we have to work to get to know them. Between all of these characters though, there’s a volatile mix of bad blood, greed and so much suppressed rage. When this spills over we are left thinking we know who’s to blame, but we don’t.
The story does slip back and forth in time from the opening scenes in 1998 to a later point as the past informs the future and vice versa. It’s important to concentrate in the past sections, because it really does inform people’s motivations and character. It’s a slow burn, but still kept me gripped throughout. Then the ending comes and while it was shocking, it made sense. This felt like some of the best Scandi Noir series I’ve watched – heavy on atmosphere and character, but takes it time unfolding the narrative and showing us where everyone fits, till the final revealing scene.
Meet The Author
Stina Jackson (b. 1983) hails from the northern town of Skellefteå in Sweden. Just over a decade ago she relocated to Denver, Colorado, where she penned her debut novel, the acclaimed The Silver Road. A runaway bestseller, the novel established Jackson as a rising new star within Nordic suspense.