and that is why we don’t keep secrets.
this is one of those psychological thrillers with a possibly-unreliable narrator, a maybe/maybe not crime, and a boatload of both family and smalltown secrets.
daniel is 29, living in london with his boyfriend mark, and working a job that is not making the most of his expensive educational background. his parents have retired after selling their business and properties, and moved to a small town in sweden, near the place his mother tilde grew up, and then ran away from at the age of fifteen.
daniel hasn’t told them he’s gay.
his parents haven’t disclosed the true state of their finances.
these secrets are the result of a family habit of unconditional love and a veneer of “everything is perfect and all problems are suppressed so only good things are experienced by all.” daniel worries that his parents will be disappointed in him, and his parents don’t want to worry him with their own difficulties. as a result, they have not been in close contact and the unruffled false surface covers up the true state of their lives.
until the day daniel receives a call from his father chris, telling him: “Your mother… She’s not well… She’s been imagining things – terrible, terrible things.”tilde has been institutionalized – has had a psychotic episode after making wild accusations against chris and several other members of their town, specifically a powerful local man named håkan greggson. she was brought in for evaluation, but escaped the facility, and just as daniel is about to hop on a plane to go to sweden, he gets a call from tilde herself, telling him she is coming to london and not to believe a word his father says. “Daniel, listen to me carefully… I’m sure your father has spoken to you. Everything that man has told you is a lie. I’m not mad. I don’t need a doctor. I need the police.
she arrives, wild-eyed and clutching a leather satchel, making daniel promise to hear her out and let her tell this story in her own way; to listen to her and then decide whether she is crazy or whether there really is a conspiracy invested in covering up a series of terrible crimes, including murder.
this puts daniel in the difficult position of having to choose a side – to believe his mother’s bag full of “evidence,” or to trust in his estimation of his father as a good man, unwilling to believe chris could have gotten caught up in so much evil. it is an aggressive situation that puts daniel in the middle of a conflict between two people who have only ever shown him love.
but tilde is not above twisting the guilt-knife: If you refuse to believe me, I will no longer consider you my son
so he listens, not sure if he is simply trying to placate her by hearing out her paranoid delusions or if there really is some truth in her accusations, and either way unsure what his next steps should be.
this book is completely engrossing, and the pages fly by. the first 2/3 of the story is mostly tilde reading to daniel from her extensive notes, and it is written in a breathless, manic pace that completely sucked me in and sounded convincingly like someone in the middle of a psychotic break. tilde is intense, hyperanimated, unyielding in her chronology, anticipating daniel’s potential objections and addressing them before he manages to ask, insisting on the conspiracy, citing numerous examples pointing to håkan’s immediate and unfair dislike of her and the petty ways in which he showed it and how he eventually turned chris against her. and she does, indeed, sound a little nuts, especially when she keeps slipping in imagery from fairy tales, particularly involving trolls. but she also sounds a little plausible.
the final 1/3 of the book is daniel’s story – the steps he eventually decides to take, and the truths that come out. it is both a satisfying ending and one that is a little too tidy. the scene in the shed, in particular, seemed a little too “well, there you go” to me. the ending dragged the rating down a bit, but otherwise, this was the kind of book that once you start, you really want to finish in one gulp. and it’s possible to do it, if you don’t have a pesky job that gets in the way like mine did with this one. hhmph.
imma call this a 3.5