Veronica, a bereavement counsellor, cannot move on after the disappearance of her small brother Billy twenty years ago. The boy was never found nor seen ever again, though some people think he was murdered. When a strange young man comes to a group therapy session and talks about his lost childhood friend, she is drawn to him and hopes to find some answers.
I have been a fan of the Swedish author Anders de la Motte, a former police officer, for a long time, and reviewed at least a couple of his previous books MemoRandom and The Silenced, both translated by Neil Smith. This one called End of Summer / Slutet på sommaren was first published in 2016 and shortlisted for the Swedish Academy of Crime Writers’ Award for Best Swedish Crime Novel.
Returning to the small community and the childhood place to deal with secrets, trauma or unanswered questions is one of the recurring leitmotifs in Swedish crime fiction. Often the capital city of Stockholm features as some kind of promised Mecca even if it does not meet the expectations nor fulfil dreams. Usually travelling back to a certain location takes the protagonist to the past which has been a reason for feeling unsettled or unable to move on with own life. These practical and emotional journeys are far from easy but provide rich intense background for the stories, becoming engrossing for the reader.
In Anders de la Motte’s latest novel Veronica tries to quieten and ignore the constant feeling of frozen ice in her heart. Her four-year-old brother Billy disappeared twenty years earlier while chasing a rabbit one night during summer of 1983. The local police spared no efforts to find the boy, investigated all possible leads and eventually arrested Tommy Rooth, a local man infamous for his disregard for law. Evidence against him didn’t lead to conviction. Soon after being released Tommy vanished from the face of the Earth which prompted now-firmly rooted gossip that even without finding the boy’s body, he was a child killer and would not be able to remain in the small community. The events destroyed the family. Devastated mother Magdalena didn’t manage to cope with depression and eventually committed suicide, leaving her husband shell shocked and Veronica (then called Vera) and her older brother Mattias desperate to escape from the village. The long shadow of the unsolved case and failure to catch the killer as that was the conclusion, marked lives of many people.
Back to the present. Veronica trained as a bereavement counsellor and we meet her as she tries to rebuild her personal and working life following a serious breach of professional conduct. She is self-aware and conscious enough to admit her addictive nature, finding refuge in other people’s grief. When a young enigmatic man joins a therapy session, she cannot help but to feel strange hope that maybe he is the grown-up Billy who somehow had survived and did not die years ago. Against better judgment she is drawn to Isak and compelled to return to her childhood home and lonely father, still mourning her mother.
End of Summer’s translation by Neil Smith is superb. The nuanced style manages to flow between different times: current search for the truth and the past recollections of the investigation. As Veronica is no detective, her digging in the painful memories and trying to understand what had really happened, bring drama and suspicions wherever she turns, especially when she ignores her Uncle Herald telling her to stay away from old tragedy, and from Isak, the bearer of bad news.
Author paints a close-knit community, hard-working and tough, and apparently under the thumb of that powerful Uncle. The book, full of tension, and capturing mood of the surrounding forests and fields and the loneliness of urban life, creates intense moving backdrop for exploring all these recollections and their long-lasting impact. Grief and loss are described in a sensitive way, and the overall effect of the emotional discovery of truth is both difficult and beautiful. A stunning intricately plotted novel.