Quercus, p/b, £7.99
Reviewed by Selina Lock
Setting off for a family day out Anders, Cecilia, and their six year old daughter, Maja, ski across the ice to visit Gavasten lighthouse, just off the coast of their Swedish island home. The visit goes horribly wrong when Maja disappears. She vanishes into thin air with no sign of broken ice and her body is never found.
Anders returns to the island several years later when his marriage has broken down and he’s become an alcoholic. Upon his return he is haunted by memories of Maja and incidents from his own childhood.
Meanwhile Simon, a non-native resident of the island, finds a strange creature just after Maja’s disappearance, which has special significance to him as an illusionist.
The novel draws you in using the tragedy of Anders’ life and the intrigue of Simon’s find before introducing the other residents of the island. It then delves back through the generations to show how the strands of history have led the residents to their current predicament.
Lindqvist provides a gripping portrayal of the devastating effect that the loss of a child can have on a parent. He shows how Anders’ attempts to reconnect to the past through possessions and comics Maja left behind lead him into danger. The mystery deepens with the melding of illusion and magic, weaving throughout the story the way that magic and superstition have become a normal part of life on the island, and leaving both the characters and reader unsure of what is real and what is not.
As a British reader, it was also amusing to see how far our pop music had penetrated into Swedish culture during the teenage scenes set in the 1980s.
One of the main themes is the atrocities people are willing to commit upon each other in their own interests, or to give themselves power over others. Water is ever-present in the book; the island is surrounded by and depends on it in many ways. How it is essential for life but still so very dangerous.
Highly recommended to those who like eerie mysteries with flawed, believable characters and a strong plot.