Tom Rob Smith. The Farm. New York: Hachette Group/Grand Central Publishing, 2014.
On reading this after a published review recommended it, my question: is this book basically an English nightmare of Swedish noir? Keep in mind that yours truly is a fan of fairly hard-boiled crime fiction. This tale is something else; Daniel has to make decisions about which of his parents is either lying or "disturbed." His Swedish mum and English father retired to a modest farm in Sweden. She starts seeing threats everywhere. Old gossip takes on new meaning. Trivial, commonplace gestures, even from her husband, become sinister. Her appearance deteriorates. She's institutionalized briefly. She runs away to her son.
Narrator Daniel finds himself in the position of coaxing the real story from his mother Tilde in her own words; but is it the truth? Tilde has secrets in her past; one or two dead bodies may be involved. The book has a differently-structured format calculated to build suspense, but the stretching out of mum's experiences soon palled. Long paragraphs, i.e. mum's carefully recited suspicions, become tiresome ... and so does the aimless Daniel. As she talks-talks-talks in oddly formal style, I'm asking will the woman ever get to the point? Daniel needs to visit Sweden for himself. Who exactly is nuts or not is the obvious underlying question. Stick it out and you'll see.
Daniel to himself:
I have no brothers or sisters, there are no uncles or aunts, when I speak about family I mean the three of us, Mum, Dad, me―a triangle, like a fragment of a constellation, three bright stars close together with a lot of empty space around us. The absence of relatives has never been discussed in detail. There have been hints―my parents went through difficult upbringings, estranged from their own parents, and I was sure that their vow never to argue in front of me originated from a powerful desire to provide a different kind of childhood to their own. (4)
Tilde to Daniel:
Let me quickly remind you that the allegation of being mentally incapable is a tried and tested method of silencing women dating back hundreds of years, a weapon to discredit us when we fought against abuses and stood up to authority. That said, I accept that my appearance is alarming. My arms are wasted away, my clothes are tatty, my nails chipped, and my breath bad. I've spent my life striving to be presentable, and today you looked me up and down at the airport and you thought―
Wrong. I'm thinking more clearly than ever before. (25-26)
Lars Kepler. The Sandman. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2014.
Originally published in Sweden in 2012, that's how long I've been waiting. It's the fourth in the series with detective Joona Linna from the unsurpassed writings of Lars Kepler, now known to be the real-life husband-and-wife writing team Alexandra and Alexander Ahndoril. Ghastly human discoveries in a forest are the signature of the psychotic Jurek who's been locked up in a secure psychiatric facility for years. Then panic starts building to find and save a potential survivor. So many dead ends, so little time. Joona's police colleague Saga Bauer volunteers to masquerade as a psychiatric patient; her experience will keep you riveted. Joona has a personal stake in solving the mystery; his wife and child were targeted by Jurek long ago. A quick trip to Moscow adds yet another element for the reader's imagination to picture.
The author(s) have faultlessly constructed an intricately contrived plot. They portray the struggles of various characters to master their fears or darker instincts: among them, the elfin but highly trained Saga has unresolved childhood guilt; grieving Reidar, father of some victims, lives only to rectify his deepest regret. Some of the developing scenarios and sudden action kept me breathless. Reviews of the book have received such universal praise, this amateur has nothing to add ― but if you are a fan of crime fiction thrillers and/or psychological suspense, introduce yourself to Lars Kepler! Personally I always like to start at the beginning of a series, in this case The Hypnotist, then The Nightmare and The Fire Witness.
Who will interview the psycho?:
"No, I can't," says Joona.
"Because I'm frightened," he replies simply.
Carlos looks at him uncertainly.
"I know you're only joking," he says nervously.
Joona turns to face him. His eyes are hard, and as grey as wet slate.
"Surely we've no reason to be scared of an old man who's already locked up," Verner says, scratching his head slightly nervously. "He ought to be scared of us. For God's sake, we could rush in, pin him down on the floor and scare the shit out of him. I mean, seriously fucking tough."
"It won't work," says Joona.
"There are methods that always work," Verner goes on. "I've got a secret group who were involved in Guantanamo."
"Obviously, this meeting has never taken place," Carlos says hurriedly. (143-144)
No means no:
Saga is still consumed by rage, holding him in the blind spot and hitting him with another right hook. The blow is extremely hard. His head is knocked aside, his cheeks flap and his glasses fly off to his left.
Bernie sinks to his knees, his head hanging as blood drips onto the floor in front of him.
Saga pulls his head up, sees that he's on the point of losing consciousness and punches him on the nose once more.
"I warned you," she whispers, letting go of him.
... Saga has time to think that she's ruined everything as she walks past Jurek to her room. (262)
A chase begins:
Snow is blowing across the windscreen and she slows down, switches the wipers on and brushes the light snow away.
In the distance a large piece of machinery resembling a scorpion stops in the middle of a sideways movement: it's holding a red container quite still, just above the ground.
There's no-one in the driver's cab, and the wheels are quickly being covered by snow.
She starts when her mobile suddenly rings, and smiles to herself as she answers.
"You're supposed to be asleep," she says brightly.
"Tell me where you are right now," Joona says, his voice intense.
"I'm in the car, on my way to―"
"I want you to skip the meeting and go straight home." (427)
A chase continues:
Joona is driving too fast when he turns left at the roundabout, the front bumper thuds up into the banked-up snow, the tyres rumble over the packed ice. He wrestles with the steering wheel as the car slides sideways, then puts his foot down and the car leaves the pavement and carries on along Lindarängsvägen without losing much speed.
... He overtakes a bus on the straight, hits one hundred and sixty kilometres an hour, and flies past yellow-brick blocks of flats. The car slides between the edges of the deep tracks through the snow as he brakes to turn left towards the harbour. Snow and ice are thrown up across the windscreen. Through the tall wire fence surrounding the harbour he can see a long, narrow ferry being loaded with containers in the blurred light from a crane. (429)