Written by Tom Rob Smith — Daniel lives with his partner Mark in London, and while he’s not exactly secure in his career, he is secure in his relationship. Five months ago his parents, Chris and Tilde, left London and everyone they knew behind to make a life on a remote farm in Sweden. For many years they ran a successful gardening business and Daniel assumed that they’d taken a peaceful retirement, and returned to the land of Tilde’s childhood. It would be just the kind of idyllic escape they needed after a lifetime of fruitful hard work.
One day, however, Daniel receives a call from his father with the news that his mum is ill, and that something had been wrong the entire summer. It began with anxious behavior and odd comments, but has escalated into something more dire. She’s making allegations and accusations, some against Daniel’s father. He tells Daniel that she’s suffering from a psychotic episode and has been committed.
Daniel can’t imagine what could be happening. They’d always been a happy family, just the three of them, and he remembers a safe childhood full of love. He always had an idea that his parents had difficult childhoods, and had no extended family to speak of, but that didn’t keep them from showering Daniel with love and affection. He begins to feel guilty for postponing his first visit to Sweden. The real reason is to delay telling his parents that he lives with Mark. In fact he’s put off telling them about his sexuality for so long that he’s convinced himself it will be a disaster.
All these worries take a backseat when he gets another call from his father saying that Tilde has been discharged from the hospital but has disappeared. Then, before Daniel can get on a plane to Sweden, his mother calls him to tell him that she’s on his way to him, and that everything his father has told him is a lie.
When Daniel’s mother arrives, they head to Mark’s apartment, and Tilde sits Daniel down to tell him a story. Turns out it’s quite a tale, and casts Daniel’s father in a role that goes against everything Daniel has ever believed about him. It’s tough for him to remain patient during the telling, but his mother assures him that ‘chronology is sanity’, and she’s determined to lay things out as they happened, so that she may prove that she’s not insane.
Tilde’s recollection of the last few months on the remote Swedish farm is straightforward and very precise, which actually serves to make the building dread all that more effective. Tom Rob Smith uses the unreliable narrator trope to great effect, and her story is very, very convincing, if vast in scope. She conveys the helplessness she felt at being labeled an outsider in the community, even though she was born and raised there, and when the safety of a young local girl becomes an issue Tilde found in herself a fierce need to protect her, at any cost.
Tilde’s story is told with an almost unbearable urgency, made palpable by her certainty that Daniel’s father is on his way to London to have her committed again. To Daniel, her story is hard to believe at first. Surely the members of that small Swedish community aren’t engaged in a dark conspiracy. But, as the story progresses, Daniel grows convinced it’s true, and while the evidence is too great to ignore, it’s also a test of Daniel’s love and loyalty.
Tom Rob Smith is known for the Child 44 trilogy featuring Leo Demidov, so this is a departure for him, and it’s quite a gripping read. Tilde’s telling paints a portrait of a woman determined to put a stop to a legacy of evil that seems to have an entire town in its grip, and the crisp, spare presentation highlights the harsh beauty of the Swedish countryside. It’s a beauty twisted and distorted by the horrific events that supposedly took place there. Tom Rob Smith is a master of suspense, and The Farm should win him many plenty of new fans while delighting old ones.
Simon & Schuster UK
CFL Rating: 5 Stars