Daniel believed that his parents were enjoying a peaceful retirement on a remote farm in Sweden, the country of his mother’s birth. But with a single phone call, everything changes. Your mother… she’s not well, his father tells him. She’s been imagining things – terrible, terrible things. In fact, she has been committed to a mental hospital. Before Daniel can board a plane to Sweden, his mother calls: Everything that man has told you is a lie. I’m not mad… I need the police… Meet me at Heathrow. Daniel is immediately caught between his parents – whom to believe, whom to trust? He becomes his mother’s unwilling judge and jury. Presented with a horrific crime, a conspiracy that implicates his own father, Daniel must examine the evidence and decide for himself: who is telling the truth? And he has secrets of his own that for too long he has kept hidden…

Inspired by the real life psychotic episode experienced by his own mother, Tom Rob Smith has crafted a powerful and affecting study in the disguise of a crime novel, as to the effect of a similar incident  on the very fabric of a family. Daniel resides happily in London with his partner Mark, and with the hustle and bustle of everyday life, and the less frequent communication with family, believes his mother and father to be happy and secure in their retirement to Sweden from the UK. However, following a frantic phone call from his father Chris, and the appearance of his mother, Tilde, in London having seemingly escaped from a secure hospital in Sweden, Daniel’s life is turned upside down by the strange tale of abduction, conspiracy and murder his mother begins to recount…

Aside from the fact that every nuance, character and indeed word of this book is practically perfect, I will divulge nothing more of the plot at this juncture. Suffice to say as Daniel’s mother begins to present evidence in the form of journals and objects of the strange goings-on in her sleepy Swedish rural community, the reader experiences the same level of confusion as to the veracity of her claims. Through these journals and the use of dual narrative, Smith perfectly evokes the atmosphere and setting of rural Sweden so familiar to regular readers of Scandinavian crime fiction. The suffocating atmosphere of this locale that so affects the mind and actions of Daniel’s mother is beautifully wrought, and those who dwell within it are amplified and layered with sinister attributes as Tilde constructs her version of events, that have supposedly led to the disappearance of a local teenage girl. Sensing the threatening behaviour of her former friends and neighbours, and her husband Chris, Tilde sets out to accrue as much physical evidence as possible to prove her claims, and to avoid her incarceration in a hospital as others make claims as to the state of her mental health.

What is most intriguing about the book, and accomplished by the exquisite pace of the narrative, is how a family structure can be so quickly thrown into turmoil. Daniel has withheld his homosexuality from his parents,  his parents have not been entirely truthful about the happiness of their retirement, and Daniel is cast into the unenviable position of questioning which parent to believe in the light of Tilde’s claims. Cleverly, we as readers are able to participate in Daniel’s confusion, bearing witness to the unfolding of Tilde’s claims, as we are hearing the story along with Daniel at the same pace, and constructing our own theories and conclusions on Tilde’s story as the contents and evidence of her journals is divulged. The use of the journal form works extremely effectively for this very reason. Daniel is also guilty, as many are, of having taken the stability of his family relationship some what for granted, so this in turn makes the confusion and divided loyalty he experiences all the more palpable within the novel.

Having read this book some time ago, I believe it to be a testament to the strength of Smith’s writing that I am so easily transported back to the events and characters of the novel, This is a book that has stayed so vividly in my mind, that I can instantly recall the characters and their traits, and have not just pressed the mental delete button that follows the ending of a book- it has stayed with me. Consequently, I cannot recommend this book highly enough as an incredibly rewarding and thought-provoking read, and a book that I will certainly revisit in years to come.

Born in 1979 to a Swedish mother and an English father, Tom Rob Smith’s
bestselling novels in the Child 44 trilogy were international publishing sensations. Among its many honours, Child 44 won the International Thriller Writer Award for Best First Novel, the Galaxy Book Award for Best New Writer, the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award, and was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award and the inaugural Desmond Elliot Prize. Child 44 is now a major motion picture starring Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace and Gary Oldman. http://tomrobsmith.com/website/ Follow on Twitter @tomrobsmith

(With thanks to Simon & Schuster for the ARC)

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