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Frimansson, Inger - 'The Shadow in the Water' (translated by Laura A Wideburg)
Paperback: 330 pages (May 2008) Publisher: Caravel Books ISBN: 1929355440

Six years after the events in GOOD NIGHT, MY DARLING, we re-encounter Justine Dalvik, still living in the house in the woods left to her by her father, the 'candy millionaire' whose 'Sandy Concern' bought material comfort if not happiness to his daughter and second wife, Flora. Justine is still with Hans-Peter, a middle-aged concierge at a small, traditional hotel in town, though unfortunately he is no longer portrayed as a bibliophile.

Justine is haunted by one of the events in particular of six years ago, described in GOOD NIGHT MY DARLING, and spends her days rowing out into the middle of the lake, peering beneath the surface to see if she can see the drowned body of Berit, the woman she knew from her schooldays and who now haunts her dreams. Berit's husband, Tor, has not worked since his wife disappeared, and is being romantically pursued by Jill, Berit's best friend. This fifty-something unlikely couple travel on a ship off the coast of Norway to see the whales, but Tor is too seasick and miserable to enjoy the holiday. Jill does shift-work as a pilot at the harbour, guiding the maritime traffic through the treacherous shallows of the canal. Relationships among the stunted and strange characters in this creepy novel are no less treacherous.

Many passages in THE SHADOW IN THE WATER repeat themes and incidents from the previous novel. Ariadne is the cleaner at the hotel where Hans-Peter works. Her blind daughter is now 16 and the picture of their domestic life with Ariadne's violent husband, Tommy, a policeman, is deeply disturbing and chilling. Tommy has inherited a suspicion of Justine. Not only was she the last known person to see Berit alive, but Justine's ex-lover Nathan, as well as a photographer called Maria, both either vanished or were killed on a Malaysian adventure holiday. The police can't prove anything, and nor can Micke, Nathan's feckless son who spends his life living with his shrewish mother, observing and plotting revenge on Justine, who he believes should be mourning Nathan instead of beginning again with Hans-Peter.

The novel revisits the lives of these and other characters, mostly elderly and all eccentric or damaged to a greater or lesser degree. There's a damp, claustrophobic air over the whole novel. Although Justine is the main character in the previous book, here she is far less central, appearing as quite a pathetic figure with her decrepit, smelly bird. And although she is obsessed with Berit, her nemesis comes from a different direction altogether.

Some degree of closure is obtained for some of the characters by the end of this book, but it is a very disturbing novel, clouded and obscured by perceptions and suspicions so that nothing is what it seems. I admire the translator, Laura Wideburg, for so ably conveying the many subtleties of atmosphere and character. Both this novel and its predecessor won the Best Swedish Crime Novel of the Year for the years in which they were first published (1998 and 2005), and I can see why. THE SHADOW IN THE WATER is even less of a comfortable read than its predecessor, in showing the nasty things that go on under the surface of apparently ordinary, small-town lives.

Maxine Clarke, England
November 2009

Maxine blogs at Petrona.

Details of the author's other books with links to reviews can be found on the Books page.
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 1/11/2009 12:24