Source: Review copy
Publication: 12 March 2020 from Point Blank
Tuva’s been living clean in southern Sweden for four months when she receives horrifying news. Her best friend Tammy Yamnim has gone missing.
Racing back to Gavrik at the height of Midsommar, Tuva fears for Tammy s life. Who has taken her, and why? And who is sabotaging the small-town search efforts?
Surrounded by dark pine forest, the sinister residents of Snake River are suspicious of outsiders. Unfortunately, they also hold all the answers. On the shortest night of the year, Tuva must fight to save her friend. The only question is who will be there to save Tuva?
Gosh! I’m a little bit emotional after finishing Will Dean’s Black River. The third in the Tuva Moodyson series, I think this is his best book yet. Easily read as a stand-alone, I’d still recommend that you read these books in order, because a sense of place is very important in these books, and you won’t really appreciate the impact of summer on the town of Gavrik until you have experienced its winters.
Tuva, a deaf journalist, has finally escaped the claustrophobic town of Gavrik, or Toytown as she likes to dismissively think of it. She’s moved to Malmo and straight away has gone cold turkey on drinking and is living an isolated life, putting all her energies into impressing Anders, her new boss and the Editor of the Sundhumn Enquirer. Any leisure time she has is spent furiously gaming as she tries to divert her thoughts away from alcohol and to pound out her frustration on her Playstation.
She’s out on a job when she gets a call from her old boss, Lena letting her know that she is needed back in Gavrik. Her best friend, Tammy has disappeared leaving her mobile food van open and all the signs are that she has been taken. But Lena is concerned that the police aren’t being as proactive as they could be.
Tuva doesn’t hesitate. Without stopping to pack a bag, she gets into her new truck and sets off for Gavrik, all the while wishing she had been a better friend and kept in closer contact with Tammy.
Lena puts her up in a small guest hut at the end of her garden. It’s sparse, but all she needs is a space to sleep. Straight away, the pair start organising. Flyers are printed and distributed and Lena organises her staff to keep pushing the search for Tammy on social media.
Tuva is deeply disconcerted that the police don’t seem to be doing much and the town itself seems way too laid back about Tammy’s disappearance. The prevailing feeling seems to be that her Thai heritage means that she wasn’t really ‘one of us’ despite the fact that Tammy is Swedish. And anyway, the townsfolk are way too concerned that all these flyers will impact on tourism if Gavrik is associated with the disappearance of a young woman. It seems that this insular, xenophobic little place wants to keep its secrets, even if at the expense of a life.
So Tuva does what she does best. She starts to investigate. One of the real joys of this series, as I mentioned earlier, is its startlingly strong sense of place and this is coupled with a host of characters that spring fully formed from what must be a very strange mind indeed.
It’s midsummer and the heat is really strong in Gavrik. Sleep is difficult because its daylight almost all the time; the heat is oppressive and that’s mirrored gently by the pace of the book. Tuva’s attention is focussed on the forest and the area surrounding a place locally called Snake River, where a lot is going on. Loggers are cutting down the trees, causing an enhanced level of bugs, ticks and other flesh biting, burrowing creatures to descend on the pale flesh of anyone who walks there.
Then there are the snakes. Sally Sandberg specialises in snakes. She breeds them, she eats them and she uses their skins for a whole host of things, including self-decoration. From large boa constrictors to small and poisonous vipers, Sally has a snake for you. But Sally’s not the only strange character in Snake River. There’s the black and white cousins, Alexandra and Axel and their numerous, locked shipping containers that they don’t want anyone to enter. Karl-Otto is surrounded by piles of old cars in a massive scrapyard and says he runs a business as an Ebay seller, but he too has areas of his workspace he doesn’t want anyone investigating.
Back in Gavrik there’s the very creepy Freddy who sells shoes but seems over eager to talk about feet; Tuva also wants to stay well clear of Viggo after their previous run-in and the weird troll carving sisters are still in the forest making their strange wooden offerings. Tuva’s skin is crawling and not just because of the bugs that are pounding her body in this oppressive, unflinching heat.
There’s only so much Tuva can do by herself, but things start to heat up even further when a local blonde teenager goes missing. Now the police are seriously interested and real search parties are taking place. When a body is found, Tuva fears the worst.
Will Dean’s Black River is an absolute must-read book. Tense, atmospheric and with such an acute sense of place that I could swear there were times when I could feel my skin itching as I read Tuva’s exploration of the forest.
Tuva is a brilliant character; she’s prepared to plunge through the moose forest to search for her friend despite the fact that she’s scared. She’s wanted to leave Gavrik and its small town closed mind-set for so long, but the recognition of the strength of the friendships that she has established is starting to make her realise that what matters isn’t always what your environment is like or how big the story might be in a larger town.
Dean’s portrayal of Tuva as a young woman with demons but slowly unfurling because of the nurturing relationships she is developing is absolutely spot on and Dean’s ability to puts us into Tuva’s mind and to feel what she feels, to be scared when she is scared is faultless.
Verdict: Will Dean’s best book yet. Beautifully crafted, it has stunning atmospherics and a host of weird and wonderful characters. It is full of surprises and will keep you guessing right to the end. I loved this book because it drew me into its heart and is threatening to never let me go.
Will Dean grew up in the East Midlands and had lived in nine different villages before the age of eighteen. After studying Law at the LSE and working in London, he settled in rural Sweden where he built a house in a boggy clearing at the centre of a vast elk forest, and it’s from this base that he compulsively reads and writes. His debut novel, Dark Pines, was selected for Zoe Ball’s Book Club, shortlisted for the Guardian Not the Booker prize and named a Daily Telegraph Book of the Year. The second Tuva Moodyson mystery, Red Snow, was published in January 2019 and won Best Independent Voice at the Amazon Publishing Readers’ Awards, 2019.
My thanks to Point Blank and especially to Thanmai Bui Van for my copy of this book