Superb, spooky whodunit from the Swedish couple who write as Kepler (The Nightmare, 2012, etc.).
Considering the nasty things that the likes of Henning Mankell, Stieg Larsson and now Kepler have been turning up underneath Sweden’s soft, pine-clad, liberal veneer, it seems surprising that the entire country has not emigrated to safer climes. Some cannot, though, notably the young women who live at a home for wayward youth in the country’s chilly north—a place where Very Bad Things are about to happen. The mayhem begins with the extremely graphic murder of a ward nurse (“She cannot see her body lying on the floor or the dog sneaking in and tentatively lapping the blood leaking from her crushed head”), and that’s just the start. Enter world-weary detective Joona Linna, whom one of the girls tellingly calls “the Finn” and who really shouldn’t be on the case; he’s in trouble, it seems, for having leaked information to a leftist group back home in Stockholm, and in any event, he’s a little shellshocked, “searching for that mental stillness that will allow him to observe and not give in to the impulse to look away.” There’s plenty to look away from, though Joona immediately sees things that others do not, even as one of his informants sees a malevolent ghost in the hallways. But why would someone, real or supernatural, go to all the work of killing a nurse and trying to pin it on a troubled kid? Ah, cherchez la chose: Someone wants something, and that someone figures in the worst of Joona’s dreams and case files. As the story unfolds, the mad look sane and the sane look mad, and Kepler’s novel turns from simple mystery to an intriguing, satisfying blend of police procedural and horror story.
A rich, nuanced tale, ideal for beach reading, just as long as the beach doesn’t harbor too many shadows.