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Posts Tagged ‘dementia’

AFTER SHE’S GONE by Camilla Grebe: Book Review

Just over two years ago I blogged about a Swedish mystery, The Ice Beneath Her, by Camilla Grebe.  It was a novel so well-written, so extraordinary in its plot, that I included it as one of the books in my Fall 2018 BOLLI course, WHODUNIT?:  MURDER IN SCANDINAVIA.  I also chose it as one of my favorite mysteries of 2017.

After She’s Gone is the follow-up to that novel.  This time the locale is the small and not-very-exciting town of Ormberg, Sweden.  It’s 2009, and three teenagers, two boys and a girl, head for the town’s forest to do some underage drinking.  Malin needs to relieve herself, so she cautiously goes a bit deeper into the woods; she’s a bit uneasy because of its reputation as the place where the Ghost Child lives.

Squatting down, she touches what at first feels like some type of bowl, surrounded by moss.  But a closer touch reveals that the bowl is actually a skull and the moss is human hair.

Jumping ahead to the present day, we meet Jake.  He’s a lonely teenager, mourning the death of his mother, and tormented by what he calls The Secret:  he likes to dress in women’s clothing.  On this particular night, after his sister and father have gone out, he goes to his late mother’s closet and puts on one of her evening dresses and a pair of her high heels and goes for a walk where no one will sees him, in that same forest.

It’s dark and a cold rain is falling when Jake hears a noise and then sees a woman crawling on the forest floor.  She’s covered with scratches, her hair is dripping wet, and she’s barefoot.  “Help me,” she says, and despite his misgivings Jake approaches her.  “Who are you?” he asks, and she says, “Hanne.”

Just then he hears a car on the road outside the woods, and very slowly the woman makes her way toward it.  In his fear of being discovered, Jake hides in the trees while Hanne makes her way to the car and after a brief conversation with the driver gets in.  But she has left something behind, something that Jake picks up.  It’s a small brown leather notebook.

The following day we meet Malin again, now a police officer in Stockholm who has been sent to Ormberg, her home town, to join the police team interviewing Hanne.  This is not just another middle-aged woman who lost her way in the forest; she is, in fact, a legend:  Hanne Lagerlind-Schön, Sweden’s foremost criminal profiler.  She is apparently suffering from dementia and can’t tell the investigators why she was in the forest or how she got there.  And where is Peter Lindgren, her partner both personally and professionally, who never leaves her side?

After She’s Gone is a fascinating glimpse into life in a town that, much like Hanne, has lost its way.  Its major industries, the ironworks and the sawmill, have closed, its young people are moving away, and the town’s long-time residents are having difficulty dealing with the newly-arrived immigrants from Arab countries.  As Malin thinks, “They get plenty of help.  Help that the people of Ormberg never received…there was no help for us when we needed it…Why can’t they go to some other place?”  But she doesn’t say that aloud.

Camilla Grebe has written several novels with her sister; After She’s Gone is her second solo mystery.  You don’t have to read The Ice Beneath Her to enjoy this novel, but I highly recommend that you double your pleasure and read both of them.  They are outstanding.

You can read more about Camilla Grebe at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.





THE SKELETON BOX by Bryan Gruley: Book Review

Ice hockey is the be-all and end-all in the northern Michigan town of Starvation Lake.

Gus Carpenter, the editor of the Pine County Pilot, is infamous in the area for having let the winning goal slip between his legs when he was a teenager on the town’s hockey team. His team lost the state championship to its bitter rival, and in a way the rest of Gus’ life has been trying to make up for that unfortunate moment nineteen years earlier.

Now playing in the adult league as the goalie for the Chowder Heads of the Midnight Hour Men’s League, Gus is called out of the locker room after a game by a deputy sheriff and taken to his mother’s house.  There Gus finds that his mother’s best friend and quasi-caregiver, Phyllis Bontrager, has been killed in Bea Carpenter’s house.

The town has been hit by a rash of burglaries over the past few weeks. It’s being called the “Bingo Night Burglaries” because each one has taken place on a night that the weekly bingo game is being held at St. Valentine’s Church.  The strangest part of these burglaries is that nothing appears to have been taken from any of the homes, but personal records have been rifled.

Usually both Phyllis and Bea would have been at that game, but Bea tells her son that she hadn’t felt like going and Phyllis was keeping her company.  Bea’s memory loss is intermittently getting worse; sometimes her memory is fine and sometimes it isn’t.  All she’s able to tell the police is that she had gone to bed, with Phyllis downstairs, then gotten up to use the bathroom, and there she found Phyllis bleeding on the floor.  She knew to call 911 but has no idea of how someone got into her house or why they’d want to murder her friend.

To further complicate the situation, Gus’ former girlfriend, Darlene Esper, is both a county deputy sheriff and daughter of the victim. In Phyllis’ last moments, she called her daughter and left a message on her cell’s voice mail that there was someone in Bea’s house, but Darlene was responding to another call and decided she could call her mother back.  But by then it was too late.

Gus had left Starvation Lake years before to make a name for himself in Detroit’s newspaper world.  But a brush with the law had ended his career there and sent him back home.  Now he edits the twice-weekly Pilot, along with a fellow journalist who also gave up the fast track in the Motor City to come to Starvation Lake.  Luke Whistler, a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize, had come to town to take things a bit easier, he said, to get away from the frantic pace of the Free Press but not to retire.  He’s a tireless investigator, and once he gets the bit between his teeth, he won’t let go of a story.

Into this mix comes Wayland Breck, a stranger from the city who is involved in a Christian camp on the outskirts of town.  He’s fighting the town council to object to a raise in the group’s taxes, and his hold over the people living in the compound seems total and eerie.  Is there more to Wayland’s crusade than taxes?  Where did he come from and why is he here?  And why is his hold on the people in the compound so tight?

The Skeleton Box holds a lot of secrets, some going back more than sixty years.  Like Pandora’s box, once the skeleton box is opened it can’t be closed again.

Bryan Gruley has written an intriguing follow-up to the two previous novels in the Gus Carpenter series. His writing is sharp and will keep you turning until the very surprising end of the story.   Guy is a terrific protagonist, one I’m anxious to see again.

You can read more about Bryan Gruley at his web site.