Source: Review copy
Publication: 19 August 2021 from Zaffre
My thanks to Zaffre Books for the opportunity to review
You can always go home. But you can never go back . . .
Summer 1983: Four-year-old Billy chases a rabbit in the fields behind his house. But when his mother goes to call him in, Billy has disappeared. Never to be seen again.
Today: Veronica is a bereavement counsellor. She’s never fully come to terms with her mother’s suicide after her brother Billy’s disappearance. When a young man walks into her group, he looks familiar and talks about the trauma of his friend’s disappearance in 1983. Could Billy still be alive after all this time?
Needing to know the truth, Veronica goes home – to the place where her life started to fall apart.
But is she really prepared for the answers that wait for her there?
I hadn’t realised that End of Summer was part of a quartet of books until after I had read it. No matter, it is easily read as a stand-alone and now I have three other books to add to my TBR list.
End of Summer is a dual timeline story, set in the present day and in the summer of 1983 when a small child, Billy, goes missing.
First though we meet Veronica Lindh, a grief therapist who is taking a bereavement counselling group, under supervision. It is clear that this supervision is warranted. Veronica is struggling to focus on the needs of her group because she can’t keep her own emotions in check. For her, working with this group is her therapy – she hopes that by immersing herself in the pain of others, she can somehow diminish or subsume her own. She wants to be a sponge – soaking up their pain until her own is drowned out.
It is working; though her thoughts when alone often stray to the unfortunate behaviour she exhibited as a result of the break-up she went through and the near breakdown she had. It is clear that Veronica is still a little on the edge.
When a newcomer joins the group he tells his story and Veronica cannot quite believe what she is hearing. For the story that this newcomer, Isak tells has uncannily similarities to her own experience.
End of Summer moves between past and present in alternating chapters for the first part of this story. Interspersed between these are occasional extracts from love letters though from whom and is not clear; neither do we know the recipient.
What we do know is that Veronica Lindh is troubled because, as she shares with her bereavement group, she lost her own mother in very sad circumstances. Not only that, her six year old brother, Billy disappeared from the family farm one summer and was never seen again. The appearance of Isak is the catalyst for her to go back home after a long absence of many years.
End of Summer is an atmospheric, melancholic book. Set in the heart of the rural farming belt, De La Motte brings us into the heart of this farming community where everyone knows everyone else and knowledge is power. This is a place where loyalties are tested and you are measured by your commitment to the community. Veronica’s older brother Mattias never left, despite promising to leave with her and she has never really forgiven him.
As a piece of rural noir it is replete with small town life, lies and secrets and the claustrophobic elements really add to the cloying, thick atmosphere that greets Veronica when she finally returns home to confront her demons.
Meanwhile, la Motte takes us back to 1983, when Billy disappeared. Here we meet the key characters involved in the investigation and see how the whole town became involved. It’s clear that there is a prime suspect, and Chief of Police Krister Månsson is under enormous pressure to make an arrest but proof is another matter. The local town personalities are all conducting their own power battles and the Chief is struggling to ensure that the law is followed at the same time as the baying crowd leaders are pacified.
La Motte beautifully combines rich atmospheric descriptions of the southern Swedish countryside with compelling characters and a tense and fraught atmosphere – so fraught that at times you can see Veronica’s jagged edges.
End of Summer has a tension that is palpable as we consider whether Veronica is a reliable narrator and wonder who the newcomer, Isak, might be.
End of Summer is a slow burn of a book that builds, layer upon layer, taking the reader with it, until al, the pieces of the puzzle are laid out, like a jigsaw if only we could find the right order to slot them together. All credit to Neil Smith’s translation which underscores the beautiful slow burn of this novel without a single jarring note.
Verdict: A beautifully written slice of rural Nordic Noir that is tense and suspenseful and rich in atmosphere. Despair and betrayal seep from the pages and the characters are compelling. End of Summer is an emotional psychological thriller and a perfect slice of intense rural drama.
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Anders de la Motte a former police officer and security manager, made his crime fiction debut in 2010 with Game and has since become one of Sweden’s most beloved crime writers. De la Motte is the author of three acclaimed crime fiction series and in 2016 he embarked on his new series, the electrifying Skåne Quartet. Four stand-alone books: Rites of Spring, End of Summer, Deeds of Fall and Dead of Winter. All four books of the series have been no.1 bestsellers in his native Sweden and shortlisted for several awards.