This tense thriller tells the story of Lena, a young woman in her early twenties who was brutally murdered in Blido, a remote Swedish island known for its intensely harsh climate. Lena, who had a troubled childhood and ongoing mental health issues, was often used by men for sexual favours. However, Dan Byrne, an Irish widower in his fifties, who had lived on the island for several years, was not one of them. Dan was like a father figure to Lena in the beginning but gradually his feelings developed and their relationship turned physical. Lena was also closely involved with some Iraqi refugees who lived on the island because they were occupying the house and farm that belonged to her aunt where she had spent many happy childhood summers. The Iraqis had taken care of Lena’s aunt in the final years of her life whilst Lena was away at college and at the time of her murder, Lena was locked in legal dispute with the Iraqis over the rightful ownership of the estate. She felt her late aunt would have wanted her to inherit it but the Iraqi family stated that her aunt had willed it to them as a thank you gesture for taking care of her in her final years. In amongst the Iraqi family was the handsome Gabriel, who had fallen in love in Lena but his love was unrequited. After Lena’s death, suspicion fell upon Gabriel and Dan, who both gave credible accounts of their circumstances on the night of the murder, although the unresolved ending made it clear that it had to be one of them who murdered her.
There is a lovely, easy flow to the narrative that could be compared to running your hand over polished mahogany furniture and feeling its beautiful fine smooth texture. However, I have two small criticisms. Apart from his name and being told he is Irish, there is nothing else that reveals much about Dan Byrne’s cultural identity. He could easily have been French or Polish or some other nationality. It’s not that I wanted the book to be littered with ‘craic’ or Irish euphuisms, but I felt the character lacked description and depth. Another irksome feature was that whenever Dan went for a walk – which was certainly at least daily if not twice – we were subjected to a full commentary about the weather each time, the colour of the sky, the shapes of the clouds, the severity of the wind or rain or both and the texture and depth of the snow. Although, these descriptions are a common feature in many novels, I felt they were overused in this instance and sometimes distracted from the story.
© Declan Henry