On the idyllic island of Öland, off the coast of northern Sweden, a young couple from Stockholm tries to start life afresh. For Joakim and Katrine Westin, reclaiming a long-neglected family manor will be a labor of love, as they slowly bring the sprawling home back to life and introduce their two children to the island’s woodlands, glens, and beaches. But in the Westins’ new home, there are things that cannot be repaired, lives that have gone wrong, and secrets that have followed them. When the family is struck by tragedy, it’s up to grief-stricken Joakim to put together a puzzle of inexplicable loss, unbearable suspicion, and tangled lives. In this powerhouse of suspense–at once a crime novel and a searing family drama–a home built as a shelter from the sea becomes a human storm of murder.
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A high voice called through the dark rooms.
The cry made him jump. Sleep was like a cave filled with strange echoes, warm and dark, and waking up quickly was painful. For a second his consciousness could not come up with a name or a place, just confused memories and thoughts. Ethel? No, not Ethel, but . . . Katrine, Katrine. And a pair of eyes blinking in bewilderment, seeking light in the blackness.
A second later his own name suddenly floated up from his memory: Joakim Westin. And he was lying in the double bed in Eel Point manor house on northern Oland.
Joakim was at home. He had been living here for one day. His wife, Katrine, and their two children had been living on the estate for two months, while he himself had only just arrived.
1:23. The red digits on the clock radio provided the only light in the windowless room.
The sounds that had woken Joakim could no longer be heard, but he knew they were real. He had heard muffled complaints or whimpers from someone sleeping uneasily in another part of the house.
A motionless body lay beside him in the double bed. It was Katrine; she was sleeping deeply and had crept toward the edge of the bed, taking her coverlet with her. She was lying with her back to him, but he could see the gentle contours of her body and he could feel her warmth. She had been sleeping alone in here for almost two months-Joakim had been living and working in Stockholm, coming to visit every other weekend. Neither of them had found it easy.
He stretched a hand out toward Katrine's back, but then he heard the cry once again.
This time he recognized Livia's high voice. It made him throw aside the cover and get out of bed.
The tiled stove in one corner of the bedroom was still radiating heat, but the wooden floor was freezing cold as he put his feet on it. They needed to change things around and insulate the bedroom floor as they had done in the kitchen and the children's rooms, but that would have to be a project for the new year. They could get more rugs to see them through the winter. And wood. They needed to find a supply of cheap wood for the stoves, because there was no forest on the estate where they could go and cut their own.
He and Katrine needed to buy a whole lot of things for the house before the real cold weather set in-tomorrow they would have to start making lists.
Joakim held his breath and listened. Not a sound now.
His dressing gown was hanging over a chair, and he put it on quietly over his pajama trousers, stepped between two boxes they hadn't unpacked yet, and crept out.
He immediately went the wrong way in the darkness. In their house in Stockholm he always turned right to go to the children's rooms, but here they were to the left.
Joakim and Katrine's bedroom was small, part of the manor house's enormous cave system. Outside was a corridor with several cardboard boxes stacked up against one wall, and it ended in a large hall with several windows. They faced onto the paved inner courtyard, which was flanked by the two wings of the house.
The manor house at Eel Point was closed off to the land, but open toward the sea. Joakim went over to the windows in the hall and looked out toward the coast beyond the fence.
A red light was flashing down there, coming from the twin lighthouses on their little islands out at sea. The beam of the southern lighthouse swept over piles of seaweed at the water's edge and far out into the Baltic, while the northern tower was completely dark. Katrine had told him that the northern lighthouse was never lit.
He heard the wind howling around the house and saw restless shadows rising down by the lighthouses. Waves. They always made him think of Ethel, despite the fact that it wasn't the waves but the cold that had killed her.
It was only ten months ago.
The muted sounds in the darkness behind Joakim came again, but they were no longer whimpers. It sounded as if Livia were talking quietly to herself.
Joakim went back toward the corridor. He stepped carefully over a wide wooden threshold and into Livia's bedroom, which had only one window and was pitch dark. A green roller blind with five pink pigs dancing happily in a circle covered the window.
"Away . . ." said a girl's voice in the darkness. "Away."
Joakim trod on a small cuddly toy on the floor next to the bed. He picked it up.
"No," said Joakim. "Just Daddy."
He heard the faint sound of breathing in the darkness and detected sleepy movements from the small body beneath the flowery coverlet. He leaned over the bed.
"Are you asleep?"
Livia raised her head.
Joakim tucked the cuddly toy in the bed, right beside her.
"Foreman had fallen on the floor."
"Did he hurt himself?"
"Oh no . . . I don't think he even woke up."
She placed her arm around her favorite toy, a two-legged animal made of fabric that she had bought when they were on Gotland the previous summer. Half sheep, half man. Joakim had named the strange creature Foreman, after the boxer who had made his comeback at the age of forty-five a couple of years earlier.
He reached out and gently stroked Livia's forehead. The skin was cool. She relaxed, her head fell back onto the pillow, then she looked up at him.
"Have you been here long, Daddy?"
"No," said Joakim.
"There was somebody here," she said.
"You were just dreaming."
Livia nodded and closed her eyes. She was already on her way back to sleep.
Joakim straightened up, turned his head and saw the faint glow of the southern lighthouse again, flashing through the blind. He took a step over to the window and lifted the blind an inch or two. The window faced west and the lighthouses weren't visible from here, but the red glow swept over the empty field behind the house.
Livia was breathing evenly again; she was fast asleep. Next morning she wouldn't remember that he'd been there.
He peeped into the other bedroom. It was the one that had been renovated most recently; Katrine had decorated and furnished it while Joakim was in Stockholm taking care of the final move and cleaning the house.
Everything was silent in here. Gabriel, aged two and a half, was lying in his little bed over by the wall, a motionless bundle. For the last year Gabriel had gone to bed around eight o'clock every evening, and slept almost ten hours straight through. The dream of every parent with small children.
Joakim turned away in the silence and crept slowly back along the corridor. The house creaked and knocked quietly around him, the creaks almost sounding like footsteps crossing the floor.
Katrine was still fast asleep when he got back to his own bed.
That morning the family had been visited by a quietly smiling man in his fifties. He had knocked on the kitchen door on the north side of the house. Joakim had opened it quickly, thinking it was a neighbor.
"Hi there," the man said. "Bengt Nyberg-I'm from the local paper, Olands-Posten."
Nyberg was standing there on the porch steps with a camera resting on his fat belly and a notebook in his hand. Joakim had somewhat hesitantly shaken hands with the journalist.
"I heard some big moving vans had come out to Eel Point over the last few weeks," said Nyberg, "and I thought I'd take a chance on you being at home."
"I'm the only one who's just moved in," said Joakim. "The rest of the family have been living here for a while."
"Did you move in stages?"
"I'm a teacher," said Joakim. "I had to work until now."
The reporter nodded.
"We do have to write about this," he said, "as I'm sure you understand. I know we were informed last spring that Eel Point had been sold, but of course now people want to know who's bought it . . ."
"We're just an ordinary family," said Joakim quickly. "You can write that."
"Where are you from?"
"Like the royal family, then," said Nyberg. He looked at Joakim. "Are you going to do what the King does, and just stay here when it's warm and sunny?"
"No, we're here all year round."
Katrine had come into the hall and stood next to Joakim. He glanced at her, she gave a brief nod, and they invited the reporter in. Nyberg shambled over the threshold, taking his time.
They chose to sit in the kitchen; with its new equipment and polished wooden floor, it was the room they had done the most work on.
When they were working in there in August, Katrine and the man laying the floor had found something interesting: a little hiding place under the floorboards, a box made of flat pieces of limestone. Inside lay a silver spoon and a child's shoe that had gone moldy. It was a house offering, the fitter had told her. It was meant to ensure many children and plenty of food for the inhabitants of the manor house.
Joakim made coffee and Nyberg settled down at the rectangular oak table. He opened his notebook once again.
"How did this all come about, then?"
"Well . . . we like wooden houses," said Joakim.
"We love them," said Katrine.
"But wasn't that a big step . . . buying Eel Point and moving here from Stockholm?"
"Not such a big step," said Katrine. "We had a house in Bromma, but we wanted to swap it for a house here. We started looking last year."
"And why northern Oland?"
Joakim answered this time:
"Katrine is from Oland, kind of. . . . Her family used to live here."
Katrine glanced at him briefly and he knew what she was thinking: if anybody was going to talk about her background, then it would be her. And she was rarely prepared to do so.
"Oh yes, whereabouts?"
"Various places," said Katrine without looking at the reporter. "They moved about quite a bit."
Joakim could have added that his wife was the daughter of Mirja Rambe and the granddaughter of Torun Rambe-that might have got Nyberg to write a much longer article-but he kept quiet. Katrine and her mother were barely speaking to each other.
"Me, I'm a concrete kid," he said instead. "I grew up in an eight-story apartment block in Jakobsberg, and it was just so ugly, with all the traffic and asphalt. So I really wanted to move out to the country."
At first Livia sat quietly on Joakim's knee, but she soon got tired of all the chat and ran off to her room. Gabriel, who was sitting with Katrine, jumped down and followed her.
Joakim listened to the little plastic sandals, pattering off across the floor with such energy, and repeated the same refrain he'd chanted to friends and neighbors in Stockholm over the past few months:
"We know this is a fantastic place for kids too. Meadows and forests, clean air and fresh water. No colds. No cars churning out fumes . . . This is a good place for all of us."
Bengt Nyberg had written these pearls of wisdom in his notebook. Then they went for a walk around the ground floor of the house, through the renovated rooms and all the areas that still had tattered wallpaper, patched-up ceilings, and dirty floors.
"The tiled stoves are great," said Joakim, pointing. "And the wooden floors are incredibly well preserved . . . We just need to give them a scrub from time to time."
His enthusiasm for the manor might have been infectious, because after a while Nyberg stopped interviewing him and started to look around with interest. He insisted on seeing the rest of the place as well-even though Joakim would have preferred not to be reminded of how much they hadn't yet touched.
"There isn't actually anything else to see," said Joakim. "Just a lot of empty rooms."
"Just a quick look," said Nyberg.
In the end Joakim nodded and opened the door leading to the upper floor.
Katrine and the reporter followed him up the crooked wooden staircase to an upstairs corridor. It was gloomy up here despite the fact that there was a row of windows facing the sea, but the panes were covered with pieces of chipboard that let in only narrow strips of daylight.
The howling of the wind could be heard clearly in the dark rooms.
"The air certainly circulates up here," said Katrine with a wry smile. "The advantage is that the house has stayed dry-there's very little damage because of damp."
"Well, that's a good thing . . ." Nyberg contemplated the buckled cork flooring, the stained and tattered wallpaper, and the veils of cobwebs hanging from the cornices. "But you do seem to have plenty left to do."
"Yes, we know."
"We can't wait," said Joakim.
"I'm sure it'll be fantastic when it's finished. . . ." said Nyberg, then asked, "So what do you actually know about this house?"
"You mean its history?" said Joakim. "Not much, but the real estate agent told us some things. It was built in the middle of the nineteenth century, at the same time as the lighthouses. But there have been quite a lot of alterations . . . the glass veranda at the front looks as if it was added around 1910."
Then he looked inquiringly at Katrine to see if she wanted to add anything-perhaps what it had been like when her mother and grandmother were tenants here-but she didn't meet his eye.
"We know that the lighthouse masters and keepers lived in the house with their families and servants," was all she said, "so there has been plenty of coming and going in these rooms."
Nyberg nodded, looking around the dirty upper floor.
"I don't think many people have lived here over the past twenty years," he said. "Four or five years ago it was used for refugees, families who had fled from the wars in the Balkans. But that didn't last long. It's a bit of a shame it's stood empty. . . . It's such a magnificent place."
They started back down the stairs. Even the dirtiest rooms on the ground floor suddenly seemed light and warm compared with those upstairs.
"Does it have a name?" Katrine asked, looking at the reporter. "Do you know if it has a name?"
"What?" said Nyberg.
"This house," said Katrine. "Everybody always says Eel Point, but I mean, that's the name of the place, not the house."
"Yes, Eel Point by Eel Shallows, where the eels gather in the summer . . ." said Nyberg, as if he were reciting a poem. "No, I don't think the house itself has a name."
"Houses often have a nickname," said Joakim. "We called our place in Bromma the Apple House."
"This doesn't have a name, at least not that I've heard." Nyberg stepped down from the bottom stair and added, "On the other hand, there are plenty of stories about this place."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Stockholm schoolteacher Joakim Westin, wife Katrine and their two young children move to a family run down manor Eel Point on Oland Island in the Baltic. They repair the old manor until their idyllic life ends when Katrine inexplicably drowns near the twin lighthouses in shallow water that she should have been able to just sit up in. Joakim has problems adjusting to the loss of his wife following the tragic death of his sister Ethel the year before; he insists to himself Katrine is still with them. While the police close their investigation officially determining a tragic accident occurred, rookie cop Tilda Davidsson has problems with the drowning death by accident ruling. She investigates on her own time, but she like Joakim will learn renovation of a musky old house will not remove permanent residents or secrets of those who once resided there. This dark Swedish thriller grips the audience with its gothic descriptions that have readers anticipating more pending doom even after Katrine drowns as the history of Eel Point is one of tragedy. The audience will wonder whether something from beyond stalks Oland Island and Westin as there is a history for it. The current death is a sort of locked room scenario since there are no footprints are on the beach while readers also ponderi what lies inside the hidden DARK ROOM. As he did with ECHOES FROM THE DEAD (also set on Oland Island) John Theorin provides a super psychological suspense as Joakim fears he is losing it with his need for closure and he doesn't want his children disturbed especially his daughter who insists she hears her mommy calling her. Harriet Klausner
Compulsively readable and beautifully written. The characters are compelling and the intertwined stories keep you mesmerized. Winner of the CWA award and so worthy...please make the time to read this book! You will not regret it.
very very well written!
A very well written book - keeps you engaged and turning the pages
This is one of the best books I've ever read. I now have a new favorite author. Can't wait for the next book!
Joakim and Katrine Westin, along with their two small children, have decided to leave Stockholm to buy and renovate an old manor house at Eel Point on the island of Öland. Along with its two lighthouses, this area has a long history of shipwrecks and drownings, and it is said that the voices of the dead can still be heard. But for Joakim and Katrine, Eel Point offers a new beginning. For their children there are meadows and forests to play in, a definite change from urban life in Stockholm. But after only a couple of months, the idyllic setting becomes a place of dread after a terrible tragedy, which leaves Joakim shaken and inconsolable, unable to deal with his grief. He begins to become more interested in Eel Point's haunted history, wondering indeed if the dead inhabit the area, and the house begins to act on his damaged soul. He meets Tilda Davidsson, a newly-recruited police officer who has moved to the area to escape from the gossip involved with her affair with a married policeman, and because she has family there. Tilda's great-uncle is Gerlof Davidsson, who was a major character in Theorin's first novel, Echoes From the Dead, and she spends a lot of time with him, putting his memories of his life on Öland down on tape.But there's more. As the Westin family is coping with its grief, the two Serelius brothers and their cohort in crime Henrik Jansson are busy breaking into vacation homes where the owners are away, stealing valuables and causing general mayhem. It's not long until their forays escalate and they start breaking into occupied houses and becoming violent, hopped up on meth before each job. Their activities have been reported to the police, but it isn't until Gerlof suggests to Tilda that she talk to a few of his old friends that anything really happens with the case.These two plotlines, along with Gerlof's oral history of his family and of life on Öland, also combined with excerpts from a book written by Katrine's mother Mirja Rambe, all weave together into a perfectly-crafted thriller with a slight hint of gothic thrown into the mix. The sense of place is unbelievably eerie and helps to keep the tension and suspense from ebbing at any point in the story. The characters are meticulously and well constructed, especially in the cases of Katrine and Joakim, whose lives Theorin discloses in only small bits and pieces at a time. The pacing of the novel is just a little slow to begin with, but when it picks up, there is no way anyone can possibly put this book down until it's over.I have to admit to being put off at first by the hint of the supernatural that figures into the story, but as all came to be revealed, my worries were put to rest and Theorin didn't let me down. It is tough to label The Darkest Room as simply a mystery or a novel of crime fiction, because it's also an examination of loss, grief and human nature in its most vulnerable and exposed state. And as in his earlier Echoes of the Dead, Theorin has created a story in which the past has meaning for and acts on the present -- one of my favorite types of novels. I highly recommend this one and considering I read it in 90+ degree heat with a near equal level of humidity, it made me shiver throughout. The Darkest Room is simply stellar.
First Line: Valter Brommesson is sitting in a little stone house at Eel Point, praying to God with his hands clasped together.Schoolteacher Joakim Westin has finally tied up all loose ends and has made the move from Stockholm to join his wife Katrine and their two small children in their new home on Eel Point on the island of Öland. Katrine has made great strides in remodeling the large home while Joakim was in Stockholm, and he's looking forward to joining with her to finish it up.One day Joakim comes home to discover that Katrine has drowned in shallow water near Eel Point's twin lighthouses. Although the police proclaim it an accident, Tilda Davidsson, a cop new to the area, isn't convinced and conducts her own investigation in her free time. And while a burglary ring breaks into summer homes and Tilda quietly gathers information, the grieving Joakim and his children feel that Katrine is somehow still with them.Once again the setting is Öland, an island that the author is very familiar with, having spent many childhood summers there. Theorin's family, sailors and farmers, has lived on the island for generations. His physical knowledge of the area has combined with the stories and the history of the place to make wonderfully atmospheric books. The Darkest Room, in many ways, is even more atmospheric and horripilating than his first book, Echoes From the Dead, which I also loved.A thin thread links this second book to the first, since Tilda Davidsson is the great niece of Gerlof Davidsson who played such a large role in Echoes From the Dead. Joakim Westin grieves so much for his wife that it's not always certain whether what he's seeing and hearing is really there. The three burglars are unpredictable, and that increases the sense of unease. And then Theorin weaves in the stories and histories of Eel Point from several generations. Each story explains a bit more. Each history illuminates another small dusty corner. "A house built with timber that dying sailors had clung to in despair before the sea took them-- should my mother and I have known better than to move in there at the end of the 1950s? Should you and your family really have moved there thirty-five years later, Katrine?"If you don't believe in spirits or places that are haunted by their histories, you may very well undergo a sea change while reading The Darkest Room. Within the space of two superbly crafted books, Johan Theorin has become one of my favorite writers.Now if I'd just stop sitting here looking over my shoulder....
It's gotten to the point, after only two novels that Sweden's Johan Theorin is IMO the new standard bearer of Scandinavian crime fiction. What stands out more than anything and despite whatever the genre he writes in is that he is an outstanding storyteller. In some respects he reminds of the late great Icelandic Nobelian Halldor Laxness. For instance, one does not have to go very far on Theorin's island of Oland without some reference to its past dark history and the past is almost as present as the present. Theorin mixes in snippets of the supernatural to his novel of present day murder but he's not clumsy or heavy handed about it. His character of Gerlof seems familiar from his previous book 'Echoes from the dead'. Gerlof is a gimpy old man living in a nursing home and a local expert on the island's histories and myths. A former captain of sailing ships he also has astute insights into the human mind. He is the one who figures out that a murder has taken place when everyone including his niece the police officer Tilda Davidson believe Katrine Westin's death to be an accidental drowning or a case of suicide. Her grief stricken husband Joakim and their two children Livia and Gabriel, the housebreaking team of the local Henrik and the two satanist, ouija board carrying brothers Freddy and Tommy and Katrine's mother Mirja Rambe--a local artist are all fleshed out and intiriguing characters in their own rights. What stands out as well is Theorin's control of not only the action but the pace. The story moves along effortlessly and is a real page turner. Combined with all the local color and history--the island becomes a character in its own right and at least for this reader I found myself imaging and imagining different parts of the island so often that I almost want to go there right now to see it in person. Theorin never loses control of his story and it has some surprising though very logical twists at the end. I've been impressed with both of Theorin's books. He is a writer whose books I expect I'll buy sight unseen in the future. His two so far are both excellent and fun reads combining so many different elements into a crime story. Highly recommended.
THE DARKEST ROOM is set on the island of Oland of the east coast of Sweden. On the eastern side of Oland are the twin lighthouses of Eel Point, one giving off a red light at night, the other a white light that rarely seems to work. Near the lighthouses just inland is the manor house built 150 years ago from the timbers of shipwrecks.Katrine and Joakim Westin have bought the manor house and are in the process of moving permanently to the island from Oslo with their two children. Coincidentally Katrine's mother has also lived in this house and extracts from a journal she wrote lead us through the house's history.Remember, when you take over an old house, the house takes you over at the same time.This house has many stories to tell, many memories are hidden here, many names are inscribed on its timbers. Some of the stories are as old as the house itself.On the night that Joakim goes back to Oslo to collect the last of their belongings tragedy strikes and one of their family dies.But this isn't just the story of the Westins, but also of a young policewoman Tilda Davidsson who has been posted to Oland to provide a policing service. Through her taped interviews of one of the island's residents we piece together some of the episodes from the past.This is one of those novels which is very difficult to review because there is so much in it. It requires the reader to at times set aside disbelief in the paranormal. You need to accept that there are times when the past can reach out into the present.One of the fascinating things about this book is the way Theorin has built it from the founding of the manor house, and developed a chronology of the tragedies the house has witnessed from then to the present day. He interweaves historical episodes from Katrine's mother's journal with current chronology. The result is a patchwork of folklore, community memory, and modern day realism. The result is engrossing.
I really loved Echoes From the Dead, which was recommended to me by a friend. And when that same friend said she'd reading Theorin's other novel, I eagerly checked it out. I think The Darkest Room is an even better novel. Part mystery and part ghost story, Theorin's plot twists and turns, like the blizzard that eventually makes things all too clear. I cannot wait to read more of his stuff.
A good book to read if you want a ghost story. Gothic more than horrifying
Wow what a terrific book! The author creates a bone chilling tale that is hard to put down. Very well done.
Read enjoy then read the next two books
Enjoyed the book.
this was a good read. i enjoyed it