In 1940 Nils Kant, a man with a violent history and accused of the murder of two German soldiers on Sweden’s shore, flees the island of Oland after killing a policeman. In 1972 Julia Davidsson’s 5-year old son Jens disappears one day after escaping from his grandparent’s backyard on Oland. Without any closure to the case, Julia has dealt unsuccessfully with her grief and only finds comfort in alcohol. She is estranged from her father and has stayed away from Oland. Then after twenty years Julia’s elderly father Gerlof receives a boy’s sandal in the mail and asks her to return to Oland. Some on Oland think that Nils Kant is not really dead even though his body was returned in 1963 and there is a gravestone for him in the church cemetery. Two of those who think that Nils is somehow linked to Jens' disappearance are Gerlof and his friend Ernst. Shortly after Julia’s return, Ernst is murdered. Gerlof, with Julia’s help, tries to ferret out who is responsible for Ernst’s murder, knowing that in doing so they will learn what happened to Jens. Gerlof, suffering from Sjogren’s, is an unlikely sleuth but his guilt about Jens compels him to push himself to bring Julia peace.
This mystery which alternates between past and present is carefully plotted and the ending, though a shock, makes sense. Oland is an interesting locale and well-known by the author who has spent every summer of his life there. The characters are realistically portrayed and Gerlof is especially sympathetic. This novel was voted Best First Mystery Novel by the Swedish Academy of Crime in 2007. Theorin, whom fans of Henning Mankell may enjoy, is one of a number of Swedish crime novelists hitting the American market.
Reviewed by ch, 1/09. Other reviews by ch.