Scandi Noir Fest

If The Farm by Tom Rob Smith is not already in your “must read” pile, then hurry out and get your copy, or load your eBook at once. In fact, if you haven’t read Child 44 yet – what are you waiting for? You have no idea what you are missing!

In all honesty, I am playing a bit fast and loose with the term Scandi Noir, since Tom Rob Smith is not fully Scandinavian, only his mother is Swedish and Tom Rob Smith was brought up in England and still lives here. Nevertheless, the Scandinavian blood that he carries, clearly carries with it a strong sense of how to write what has grown to be the biggest publishing success story of the Twenty-first Century: a Scandinavian thriller.

scan0004The Farm is a strange mixture, it is a crime novel but not a police procedural thriller. It is at the same time, a novel about paranoia as experienced both from the inside and from the outside.

I cannot be accused of a spoiler here, since the beginning of this book was published in many national newspapers even before the book was published in this country, so what follows in a small part of the opening chapter:

“…sliding the phone out of my pocket, pressing it against my ear – sweat pooling on the screen. It was my dad. He’d recently moved to Sweden and the call was unusual; he rarely used his mobile and it would’ve been expensive to call London. My dad was crying. I came to an abrupt stop, dropping the grocery bag. I’d never heard him cry before.”

The call to Daniel opens up the book. His father, Chris has called to say that his mother is sick, committed to an asylum for erratic and irrational behaviour. No sooner has Daniel reached Heathrow airport for a hurried, last minute flight to Sweden, but his mother, Tilde calls saying that she is on the way to London, having discharged herself from the mental hospital. The victim, she says, of a terrible conspiracy.

There slowly unravels an extraordinarily weird story, told by his mother using a satchel full of what she terms “evidence”. She begs Daniel to keep an open mind. Meanwhile, his father, discovering that she has absconded arrives in pursuit.

The brilliance of this writing lies in the compelling details, each page reveals a new bit of evidence, or a new counter-attack by Chris phoning to keep tabs on the situation. Coupled with this drama being played out by his parents, Daniel has a personal secret which he has kept from his parents and this is about to be revealed now both of them are in London.

There are plenty of films one can think of which portray the disturbed mind, but I can think of very few books that so vividly give the reader a sense of the accumulation of fear in trivial details that is the symptom of paranoia, at the same time as it gives us the growing desperation of the listener, in this case Daniel, trying to figure out how much of this is imagined and how much is fact – especially when both his parents are begging him to believe their side of the story, while whichever side he comes down on the outcome is going to be horrible for one parent or the other.

Tom Rob Smith burst on to the writing scene with Child 44 in 2008, also a chilling tale, he has written four novels all together, The Farm is his latest. I recommend it.

[By the way, fellow Londoners, Daniel lives in a flat in Bermondsey which is unmistakeably The Jam Factory, the old Hartley’s factory on Tower Bridge Road, Southwark, now re-furbished as luxury apartments; the flat where he lives is on the top storey, all steel and glass with capacious roof gardens – o lucky man!]

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