At the outset of this novel Eva and Henrik are a happily married couple, enjoying their home, their toddler son Axel, the life they have built together. Or at least that is how things appear. But underneath this surface civility lies a completely different picture. One of resentment, exhaustion and a longing for what might have been. The third player in this suspenseful tale is Jonas who, again on first appearance only, is a devoted lover of Anna who has been in a coma for more than two years but who Jonas visits daily and, when hospital staff allow, stays with overnight in the belief that his attentions will restore her to him.
It’s a stretch really to call BETRAYAL crime fiction but I’m not in the mood to repeat my familiar rant about the absurdity of genre labelling. Irrespective of how few of the genre’s tropes and norms it conforms to, BETRAYAL is a chilling novel and not through inclusion of any forensic gimmickry or absurdly psychopathic characters. Essentially it is the story of three rather ordinary people and their reactions to the perceived betrayals they experience as both perpetrator and victim. What struck me most was how believable the three are, even when they go further than rational thought would suggest normal in such circumstances. Alvtegen does a superb job of making their actions seem natural in the context of the rather cloying environment she has created for them. None of the three main characters are really likeable but it’s difficult to hate them entirely too, although I could probably slap Henrik without much guilt if the opportunity arose as the blame for his actions is the least transferable to anyone but himself.
Another element of this novel worth commenting upon is the clear and concise writing, which at least in the English version I read has to be in part due to the skill of its translator, Steven T. Murray. At less than 300 pages the book is practically a novella by today’s standards and yet it feels perfectly complete. So much is conveyed in a single sentence, a few words even. And even the book’s repetitive passages, those few instances where Alvtegen depicts the same event from two different perspectives, seem entirely fresh and show us insights about the characters that another author might have taken dozens of pages to describe.
There is an exquisite build up of suspense too and the climax is a genuine, creepy surprise. I am always impressed when an author can keep me guessing until the very end and also make that ending seem like the only logical outcome in retrospect. Ultimately this is just a great read and highly recommended to all, even those of you who think you don’t like crime fiction.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
As always Maxine Clarke reviewed this book earlier and better than I, in this instance at Euro Crime.
Also as always I’m grateful to Margot Kinberg whose upcoming schedule for her excellent In The Spotlight posts has prompted me to pluck yet another book from my groaning TBR shelves. Do check out Confessions of a Mystery Novelist on 24 Dec to see what insights Margot offers about this book.
Somehow I have only read one of Alvtegen’s four books besides BETRAYAL, but MISSING was also an outstanding read.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Translator Steven T. Murray
Publisher Cannongate [This edition 2007, original edition 2003]
Length 297 pages
Book Series standalone
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