If you refuse to believe me, I will no longer consider you my son…
Daniel believed that his parents were enjoying a peaceful retirement on a remote farm in Sweden, the country of his mother’s birth. But with a single phone call, everything changes.
Your mother… she’s not well, his father tells him. She’s been imagining things – terrible, terrible things. In fact, she has been committed to a mental hospital.
Before Daniel can board a plane to Sweden, his mother calls: Everything that man has told you is a lie. I’m not mad… I need the police… Meet me at Heathrow.
Daniel is immediately caught between his parents – whom to believe, whom to trust?
He becomes his mother’s unwilling judge and jury. Presented with a horrific crime, a conspiracy that implicates his own father, Daniel must examine the evidence and decide for himself: who is telling the truth? And he has secrets of his own that for too long he has kept hidden…
I’ve really enjoyed other books by Tom Rob Smith. Child44 blew me away – highly original, about a series of child murders in Stalinist Russia, awarded the 2008 Ian Fleming Steel Dagger for Best Thriller of the year by the Crime Writer’s Association. The Secret Speech was an excellent follow-up – a really intelligent thriller with a cinematic feel. I skipped Agent 6 – still waiting on my shelves – to read this one because there was such a buzz about it and I really wanted to try it.
I don’t review books that I really don’t like. I think it’s fairest to say that this book was a highly unusual read, not at all what I was expecting, well worth reading, but really wasn’t for me. When reviewers make comments like “the book has some beautiful descriptions of rural Sweden and community life”, you do start to wonder though – maybe you’re not going to be getting an edge-of-your-seat thriller.
The story is told by Tilde, the mother, to her son Daniel – in intricate detail – interspersed with conversations between them as the story unfolds.
“Chronology is sanity.” She said this as though it were well-known and widely accepted wisdom. “What does that even mean?” “When you jump around, backwards and forwards, people begin to question your mind. It happened to me! The safest way is to start at the beginning and move to the end. Follow the chain of events. Chronology is sanity.”
This chronological retelling of events was my biggest problem with the book – the style was strangely stilted, a telling of a story that became (for me) a little tedious and very slow, not the psychological page turner I’d expected. Others have made much of the “who would you believe?” line – there are different interpretations of the truth, but I found it really difficult to engage with the characters enough to care. I really enjoy a good unreliable narrator, but this one isn’t sufficiently off-centre for you to experience the thrill of knowing that you might be getting a slightly skewed version of the truth.
The story itself is fine – intricate and convoluted, supported by the pieces of evidence the mother extracts from the battered satchel, all set against a vividly drawn wild Swedish rural backdrop. There’s suspense and mystery, a touch of strangeness – but none of that could get me past the problem with the telling. Then, there was a surprise – in the last quarter of the book, there’s a sudden rush of activity, Daniel bursts into action, talks to a few people, and everything is neatly tied up and put away.
Reading other reviews, I’m wondering if the problem was mine, the expectations I brought with me from reading the earlier books. There were many images here that will stay with me long after reading the book, but I’m afraid this one just wasn’t for me – maybe I should have stuck with Agent 6.
The Farm was published by Simon and Schuster on 13 February: my thanks to netgalley and the publishers for my advance reading copy.
Born in 1979 to a Swedish mother and an English father, Tom Rob Smith’s bestselling novels in the Child 44 trilogy were international publishing sensations. Among its many honours, Child 44 won the International Thriller Writer Award for Best First Novel, the Galaxy Book Award for Best New Writer, the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award, and was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award and the inaugural Desmond Elliot Prize. Child 44 is now a major motion picture starring Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace and Gary Oldman.