Fresh Blood

Name: Johan Theorin

Title of Book: Echoes From The Dead

'Not just highly recommended, essential.'

Twenty years ago, Julia Davidssonís five year old son disappeared on the Swedish island of Oland. Although presumed dead, his body was never found and Julia, to the despair of her family, has never recovered from the tragedy. It appears that the mystery will never be solved until one day Juliaís father, still living on the island, receives a shoe that he believes belongs to the missing boy. Although at first reluctant to return to the island, Julia makes the journey to confront her past and try to discover what really happened all those years ago.

The island folk have never forgotten the tragedy and are convinced that the killer was the damaged Nils Kant, a man capable of extreme acts of violence. But Nils Kant died before Juliaís son disappeared, so why are the islanders so convinced that he had a hand in it?

This is an extraordinary debut crime novel that stretches the boundaries of the genre whilst elegantly enhancing it.

Although a missing child is difficult subject matter to deal with, the book focuses on the aftermath of the disappearance rather than the agony of the search. Johan Theorinís writing is clear and concise and the excellent translator is to be applauded. The story is never prurient or overindulgent and this allows the reader to feel genuine distress at the obvious pain of Julia, yet also offers valuable insight into how a missing child can impact on a family, often for decades.

As a central protagonist Julia Davidsson is a highly complex character. On the one hand the reader empathises with the pain and loss she clearly feels, yet she is also obviously a difficult person as evidenced by her relationship with her father and sister. Yet it is the intelligent and ingenious plot that makes this book truly stand out from the crowd. The uncovering of past events across the years is very well written and will enthrall the reader... even the ending holds one last big surprise!

Not just highly recommended, essential.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) How would you classify your writing, and do you consciously try to write to a certain style or genre?
No, I really just try to write as clearly as possible. I enjoy reading writers who care about their words and sentences, and try to do the same.
2) What type of crime novels do you like to read? Do you prefer series or standalone?
I like characters who change and learn and develop in a story, and that of course hardly happens to many popular series characters. I am really glad that Ian Rankin allowed Rebus to grow older. The series character I am writing about, Gerlof Davidsson, is over 80 years old and at the end of his life, so he will also change.
3) Your novel touches on an archetypal fear for every parent - a missing child. What made you choose this sensitive subject matter?
I am a parent myself, so in Echoes from the Dead I am writing about my own fear. Also, I was going through a dark time in my life when I started the novel since a good friend of mine had committed suicide. It is a fictional story, but the grief in the novel is personal and real.
4) The small island location is, in a sense, an extended variation on the classic 'locked room' scenario because it limits the action to a defined geographical space. Was creating this claustrophobic atmosphere an important part of the story for you?
Several thousand people live on the Swedish island of Oland in the winter, so in that sense it is a very crowded locked room! But you're right that an island is always a very special and defined place, and I think the people on the mainland often wonder exactly what goes on out there. A murderer on an island always finds it more difficult to escape, which inevitably creates a certain tension in Echoes from the Dead.
5) Julia is a complex character, and not altogether sympathetic. Was it important to show that she is not just a 'victim'?
Julia has defined herself as a victim, which is her major problem. She is experiencing pathological grief and is not very balanced when the novel begins. After over twenty years of mourning a child who has vanished without a trace, she has alienated her friends and relatives. So she has two alternatives: to remain alone in the darkness or try to get out of there.
6) Did you get any expert help about how the reopening of this kind of 'cold' case might be dealt with by police?
No, but I did interview a policeman about ten years ago who had been involved in some famous Swedish cases of missing or murdered children in the 1980's and 1990's. He was slightly obsessed and very frustrated, especially since he strongly suspected that he already had questioned people who knew more than they would admit. Luckily, with new DNA testing some of these cases have now been solved and the murderer put behind bars.
7) There has been a huge renaissance in Scandinavian crime and thriller writing in recent years. Do you feel this has helped, or hindered, you as a first-time novelist? Are you surprised at the international interest in your book?
Getting a debut novel published by a large Swedish publisher is difficult enough, so that was my only ambition and I didn't really give any thought to the possibility of being published anywhere else! With hindsight, the international success of Scandinavians such as Henning Mankell and Jo Nesbo has likely paved the way for new writers like myself. But almost all Scandinavian crime fiction which has been published abroad has so far been police procedurals, and I think Echoes of the Dead is more of a dark mystery novel.
8) This is your first book. Have you always written, and how difficult was it to get the book as seen to the stage where you were happy with the finished product?
I have always enjoyed writing, but most of it took place at school. When I became a journalist as an adult I started writing and publishing short stories and wrote two mainstram novels which weren't published. I really had no plans to become a crime writer, but the characters of the murderer Nils Kant and the grieving Julia and her old father Gerrlof started appearing in my head and I began to write about them in my spare time, between working as a journalist and coaching my daughter's football team. It took about five years to finish Echeos from the Dead, but I think it was worth it.
9) Without giving away the plot, which book - yours or by another author - included your favourite plot twist of all time?
I read A Kiss before Dying by Ira Levin over twentyfive years ago, and still vividly remember the twist in the middle of the story. But when I read these days, the characters, themes, atmosphere and settings of a novel are more important to me than plot twists. Which is not to say that I don't try to have them in my own stories, if they work.
10) What is your favourite movie adaptation of a crime novel?
I would have to be predictable and say Psycho from the novel by Robert Bloch. But most of my favourite crime movies are based on original scripts: films such as Lone Star, Shallow Grave, Insomnia (the US version with Al Pacino), One False Move, and the Danish film Pusher.
11) Would you describe yourself specifically as a Crime fan and, if so, which classic and current authors do you most admire?
Yes, I read and enjoy crime fiction as well as mainstream, comedy, and horror fiction. I like many crime authors, but an old personal favourite is Cornell Woolrich who wrote crime fiction with gothic or supernatural overtones. A new Scandinavian favourite is the Norwegian Karin Fossum, author of novels like Black Seconds and The Indian Bride. She writes so well and always treats her characters with great understanding, even if they sometimes are violent and abominable.
12) What is your favourite crime read of all time?
I could think of dozens of well-known titles, from The Hound of the Baskervilles to The Chemistry of Death, but since you're pointing a knife at me right now to make me say just one, here it is: The Laughing Policeman by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo.