By Hans Koppel
Translated by Kari Dickson
Published by Sphere
It is safe to say that my choice of reading material is not usually truculent. That’s why I surprised myself when I decided to read a novel whose front cover prominently displays a quote describing it as a ‘terrifying crime novel’.
I started to read expecting the worse and - it being impossible to put the book down - a few hours later I was trying to understand what had hit me.
Let’s be clear: I loved this book and I’m grateful to Sphere for publishing this Swedish novel by author Karl Petter Lidbeck who, being a children’s literature author, decided to have it published under the pen name of Hans Koppel. I can see why he doesn’t want to have the two genres mixing on the bookshelves!
The plot is simple enough: one day after work, Ylva does not return home. When she hasn’t returned 24 hours later, her husband Mike starts to worry and calls the police. Ylva seems to have disappeared without a trace and, month after month, Mike and his daughter Sanna try to move on. All this without knowing that Ylva is being held captive in a house across the street. Ylva can’t reach her family but she can see her husband and her daughter on a TV screen installed in the cellar where she’s kept. That’s what you’d describe as twisting the knife in the wound, I suppose.
The kidnapping happens right at the beginning of the book, while the rest of the novel explores themes of despair and resignation – both Ylva’s and her husband’s – as well as vengeance and abuse. I’ve read reviews of this book that mention the horrible scenes of sexual humiliation and violence and, to be honest, I was surprised as they didn’t particularly stand out for me.
What I found terrifying was not, as I anticipated, the brutality of the events. It was more subtle than that and had to do with my own feelings towards the victim and the perpetrators. See, the fact is that the plot is not as simple as I had you believe at first but I can’t reveal too much without spoiling the surprise. Let’s just say that the more I got to know about Ylva, the less sympathetic I felt towards her. And, given her situation, that felt wrong. Or scary, in fact.
I will definitely be waiting for Koppel’s next translated novel.