By Johanna Mo; translated by Alice Menzies; reviewed by Jeannette Hartman
Going back to the island where you grew up — where your father was accused and convicted of violently murdering a woman and burning her house down 16 years ago — doesn’t seem like a good idea.
But for Hanna Duncker, it feels like the answer to her deep longing to belong, to have a community and friends.
As she clears out her childhood home following her father’s death the previous autumn, Hanna realizes she wants to leave Stockholm, where she is a police detective, and come home to Öland.
Kristoffer, her brother, now living in England, hisses, “There’s something seriously wrong with you.”
Coming home means having Ove Hultmark, the man who investigated her father’s crime, as her boss at the Kalmar County Police Department. It means working with a cousin of the murdered woman. And it also means living with threatening phone calls and signs that she’s being watched and may be in danger.
Her new partner, Erik Lindgren, is a chatterbox and grates on her nerves. He’s a newcomer to Öland. Daniel, another colleague, has a strong resemblance to her ex in Stockholm.
On her first day of work, she and Erik are assigned to investigate the apparent murder of Joel Forslund, a 15-year-old boy, badly beaten, stabbed in the abdomen and left to die leaning against a wall near Möckelmossen lake. When she and Erik go to notify the family, Hanna realizes he’s the son of her best friend growing up, Rebecka.
The case is challenging. Joel was a quiet, nearly friendless young man struggling with his sexual identity. There’s little solid evidence to identify the perpetrator.
This is a haunting and poignant story. It’s easy to connect with Hanna’s longing for friendship and intimacy. But if she thought returning home would help her fit in, the stares and gossip she gets as she goes about her work suggest otherwise.
Author Johanna Mo alternates chapters describing Hanna’s investigation and immersion in the world of the island that she grew up on with descriptions of what happened on Joel’s last day. The juxtaposition is suspenseful and haunting.
Erik is a good foil for Hanna. He is cheerful and outgoing while she is reticent and mistrustful. He has an Indian wife and lived in Mumbai before returning to Sweden, while she has deep roots in the community.
Returning to Öland brings back old memories of her family life before her mother died, and her father abandoned Hanna and her brother for alcohol. As a Kalmar police officer, she has an opportunity to read the file on the investigation of her father. As air-tight as the investigation seems to be, the crime doesn’t seem to fit her father.
This is Nordic noir shot with rays of hope. Hanna’s life is filled with darkness and there’s plenty of darkness on Öland as people realize who she is. But Hanna’s desire to come back to the island is based on her good memories rather than the bleakness of losing her mother, the conviction of her father for a violent murder and his abandonment of his son and daughter to his own demons that he tries to erase with alcohol.
Hanna is seeking to recreate her life as it should have been without all the tragedy on Öland.
THE NIGHT SINGER is the first book in author Johanna Mo’s series, The Island Murders, set on the island of Öland. The second book in the series is THE SHADOW LILY.
The Author: Johanna Mo (1976 – )
Johanna Mo worked for 20 years as a literary critic, translator and freelance editor.
She has written eight crime novels and two literary novels to date. THE NIGHT SINGER is her English-language debut.
She was born in Kalmar, Sweden, and now lives in Stockholm with her family.