The manor house at Eel Point, on the Swedish island of Öland, has had a dark reputation ever since it was built using salvage from a shipwreck. There have been a number of deaths associated with the place over the years, and the latest happens shortly after Joakim Westin moves in there with his family – his wife Katrine drowns, apparently accidentally. A young police officer named Tilda Davidsson looks into events, and starts to wonder if Katrine’s death really was all that accidental – whilst Joakim’s subsequent experiences might well lead him to wonder if the tales of the house’s being haunted have some truth to them.
The Darkest Room is Johan Theorin’s second novel set on Öland (both translated into English by Marlaine Delargy), and it has certainly made me interested in going back to check out his first, Echoes from the Dead. On the downside, I don’t find the prose to be quite as atmospheric as I think the story needs it to be, such that the details of what happens worked more to spur me on through the book than did particular turns of phrase – but those details are quite enough to make for a worthwhile read.
I particularly appreciate the way Theorin uses the investigation into Katrine’s death to illuminate character: Tilda has been dumped by the man with whom she was having an affair, and deals with it by throwing herself into her work, trying to establish a rational explanation for events. Joakim, on the other hand, is having to cope both with his grief at losing Katrine, and with trying to explain to his children that their mummy isn’t coming back; and he starts to take a kind of refuge in the possible supernatural explanations for the voices and other strange occurrences about the house.
Theorin also creates some memorable secondary characters, such as Mirje, Katrine’s flamboyant artist mother, and Tilda’s sprightly great-uncle Gerlof, with his tales of the past. The ending ties up the threads of the plot enough to be satisfactory, but leaves enough dangling to leave one mulling certain things over. Yep, I’d say The Darkest Room was a good read.