6 Rated Books Book Reviews

Book Review: Echoes from the Dead by Johan Theorin

Title: Echoes from the Dead

Author: Johan Theorin

Genre: Crime

Publisher: Transworld (Black Swan)
Publishing Date: 3 July 2009 (UK)
Paperback: 480 pages

Stand Alone or series: Stand Alone

Why did I read the book: I was offered a review copy. Although I don’t read crime novels as much as I used to, I decided to give this one a try once I heard that 1) it is set in Sweden in and I am trying to expand the settings of the novels I read. 2) it won an award for best debut novel in its home country

Can you ever come to terms with a missing child?Julia Davidsson has not. Her five-year-old son disappeared twenty years previously on the Swedish island of Oland. No trace of him has ever been found.

Until his shoe arrives in the post. It has been sent to Julia’s father, a retired sea-captain still living on the island. Soon he and Julia are piecing together fragments of the past: fragments that point inexorably to a local man called Nils Kant, known to delight in the pain of others. But Nils Kant died during the 1960s. So who is the stranger seen wandering across the fields as darkness falls?

It soon becomes clear that someone wants to stop Julia’s search for the truth. And that he’s much, much closer than she thinks . . .


1972. In the island of Öland, Sweden, a young boy is spending the summer with his grandparents. His mother is out for the day, his grandmother is taking a nap and the grandfather is working on his nets at the boathouse when six year old Jens decides to go on an adventure. He climbs the small wall at the end of the garden and goes for a walk in the Alvar. Soon though, he gets lost in the spreading fog and loses his bearing. He then meets a man who introduces himself as Nils Kant and reassures him that everything will be alright. Jens is never seen again dead or alive.

20 years later, his mother Julia is still unable to let go. Living in a dingy apartment with her only companions being wine bottles and the American Shopping channel , she merely gets by and she has been on a sick leave from her job as a nurse for ages. The working explanation for her son’s disappearance is that he went towards the sea and drowned but Julia does not believe that and deep down still hopes he is alive somewhere.

Until one day she gets a phone call from her father with some disturbing news : he has received in the mail, one of Jen’s sandals – the one he was wearing on the day of his disappearance and he urges her to go back to her childhood home to investigate further. Gerlof , now a 80 year old, retired widown, lives in a nursing home and struggles to live with a crippling chronic disease and the certainty that he is old and unimportant. Together with is best friend Ernst, he has been working in a new theory about his grandson and one that involves…..Nils Kant.

Julia goes back, even if only for a couple of days and is overcome with the memories. Then, Ernst is killed and all of a sudden there is the conviction that Gerlof is on to something. But then, Julia finds out that Nils Kant has been dead for over 30 years – even before her son disappeared! What is Gerlof hitting at – is Nils Kant not really dead?
Julia’s journey through the small villages of the island and Gerlof’s attempt at playing private eye are intercalated with flashbacks of Nils Kant’s story – going back to his own dark, disturbing childhood and the death of his younger brother to the crimes he committed as a young man. We then learn that this man’s past is intertwined with that of the island and that Öland, with its past and future, is a character in itself.

Until the two narratives coincide in the most surprising way.
The alternating points of view of these three characters add an incredible insight to the story and makes Echoes from the Dead more character-driven than plot-driven. Nils ‘ obsession with the island and with his self-importance, Julia’s depression and want for closure and Gerlof’s need to prove that he is still important and that his life still matters were poignant and interesting and added a human flavour to a whodunit. The author’s description of the island was amazingly haunting and spoke of a close relationship to the place. The bleakness and the emptiness of the surroundings were immensely evocative and emphasised the sombre aspects of the three characters’ personalities.

A couple of small things did bother me and detracted from the overall enjoyment of the novel – the fact that Gerlof was a bit too aloof and too close-mouthed about his findings, choosing to reveal things little by little made me impatient. They were dealing with a possible murder investigation not with one of the stories he heard in his childhood. It was a matter of great importance and I felt that his actions and Julia’s reaction to them were not realistic. And the presence of a paranormal element, that came out of nowhere and added absolutely nothing to the story. Still, this is a pretty solid debut novel and I admired the way the plot unfolded.

A few years ago, I used to be a voracious reader of crime novels until I sort of grew tired of the genre. Echoes from the Dead was a great reminder of why I used to love whodunits and I recommend it to lovers of the genre and to those who would like a different setting.

Notable Quotes/ Part: definitely the climax of the story when everything becomes clear to the reader.

Verdict: With its interesting characters and the haunting setting and narrative, Echoes from the Dead is a solid debut novel.

Rating: 6. Good.

Reading Next: Written on your Skin by Meredith Duran

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  • orannia
    July 13, 2009 at 5:03 pm

    Ohhh, thank you Ana. This sounds…intriguing. I like whodunits, especially those that develop the characters. And this remind me, in part of Linda Howard’s Cry No More, which was disturbingly good.

  • Erin
    July 15, 2009 at 3:58 pm

    I am probably going to buy this based on the strength of your review because I am out of new (to me anyway) crime books! Having not read the book yet, may I speculate that maybe Gerlof seemed a bit aloof because it might be a trait of island dwellers in cold places? Just for the sake of discussion.. 😀

  • Ana
    July 15, 2009 at 11:26 pm

    Hey Erin.

    thanks for your comment – yes, it may well be the reason although other residents weren’t.

    I saw your blog and you have an inclination for horror books right? I think you will like this one. 😀

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