We Know You Remember by Tove Alsterdal: Moody, gripping and unpredictable - book review -

When a teenage girl disappeared without a trace from a small rural town twenty-three years ago, a local boy confessed to raping and killing her and was banished from the close-knit Swedish community.

By Pam Norfolk
Wednesday, 2nd February 2022, 12:30 pm
We Know You Remember by Tove Alsterdal
We Know You Remember by Tove Alsterdal

But now Olof Hagström, who was only fourteen at the time and too young to be charged, is back… and on the day of his return, his father is found stabbed to death in his bath. It’s a disturbing case that will come too close to home for police detective Eira Sjödin who has dark secrets in her own family.

Welcome to the chilling, thrilling, claustrophobic world created by Tove Alsterdal, the smart and sassy Swedish crime sensation whose dazzling talents are billed as ‘one of Sweden’s best-kept secrets’ and who has won both the Glass Key Award for Best Nordic Crime Novel and Best Swedish Crime Novel of the Year.

Noted for her immaculate prose, propulsive storytelling, page-turning evocation of rural Sweden, and superb characterisation, Alsterdal’s debut novel for an English-speaking audience – superbly translated by Alice Menzies – leaves readers guessing from start to finish.

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And what a mesmerising case it is… set against the lush backdrop of the forested and rocky landscape of the High Coast of northern Sweden, Alsterdal’s thriller sweeps readers into a small township where the decades-old mystery of missing teenager Lina Stavred still sends powerful shockwaves through the tight-lipped, guilt-ridden residents.

Everyone in the Kramfors area of Ådalen remembers the summer night twenty-three years ago when 16-year-old Lina Stavred went missing. At first, the police investigation seemed like a dead end… there was no body, no crime scene and no murder weapon.

But then local boy Olof Hagström – known to have some learning difficulties – confessed to raping and strangling Lina. Her body was never found and Olof was never convicted. Instead, he was sent away to a special children’s home, his family declined all contact with him, the case was closed and the records sealed.

Now 37-year-old Olof has reappeared at his family’s house and he knows instantly that something is amiss. The front door key, hidden under a familiar stone, is still there. Inside, there’s a panicked dog, a terrible stench, water pooling on the floor and the widowed father Olaf has not seen or spoken to in decades is dead in the bath tub.

For police detective Eira Sjödin, the investigation of this suspicious death resurrects long-forgotten nightmares. She was only nine when Olof confessed to the brutal crime but she knows all too well that the case left a mark on the town’s collective memory – a wound that never quite healed – and tinged Eira’s childhood with fear.

Eira is not one of those ‘instinctive’ police officers but a thorough one who observes and prefers ‘putting the pieces together one by one.’ And here lies her chance to unearth years of well-kept secrets… even if the truth is something Ådalen would rather forget.

Alsterdal reveals in her author’s note that she was drawn to write about the river valley area of Ådalen, with its compelling blend of lightness and melancholy, after buying a family house there with views stretching for miles across rivers and distant mountains.

And it proves to be a stunning star player in a twisting, turning plotline that weaves seamlessly between past and present, and features police procedural detail so authentic that it’s like sitting next to Eira as she ploughs a furrow through a dense miasma of secrets and lies.

As old sins are resurrected and a new evil appears, Eira must fight her way through a murky, menacing wall of local suspicion and accusation, only to discover that this new crime could also be a chance to find answers to her own lingering questions.

Moody, gripping and unpredictable, and with an incisive and sophisticated exploration of grief, guilt, memory and family, We Know You Remember brims with all the tension, intrigue and atmospherics that we have come to expect from classic Swedish noir.

Add on a final, shocking twist, and Alsterdal’s entry into our Nordic Noir crime-reading scene certainly gets off to a cracking start!

(Faber & Faber, hardback, £12.99)