Book review: October Is The Coldest Month, by Christoffer Carlsson

12 08 2017

Christoffer Carlsson is an award-winning Swedish criminologist and crime fiction writer, best known as the creator of the ‘Leo Junker’ series of novels. I’ve recently reviewed the first of that series, The Invisible Man From Salem, here.

OctoberIsTheColdestMonth

October Is the Coldest Month (Oktober Är Den Kallaste Månaden, 2016, translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles) is Carlsson’s first foray into young adult fiction, but it is in several ways a natural extrapolation: much of the content of The Invisible Man From Salem dealt with an exploration of the pivotal events in Junker’s adolescence, and conveyed a vivid familiarity with the range and shape of the teenage experience. That same familiarity is on display in October.

School student Vega Gillberg, 16, is home alone when her world is turned upside down by a knock at the door. It’s a police officer, Viktor Franzén, seeking information on the whereabouts of Vega’s older brother Jakob in connection with the disappearance of local man Lars Hellman. Actually, it’s not this event that inverts Vega’s life, it’s something that happened two or three nights earlier, but she daren’t tell the police about that …

October is a smart, snappy, fast-moving tale that places the reader very effectively in Vega’s inquisitive shoes, and that’s steeped in a kind of rural gothic menace that could be almost Appalacian rather than the southern Swedish hinterlands: it’s a landscape of backroads, bogs, and deep forests. The book drips with mood, menace, and the oppressive chill of late autumn. The characters—Vega, Jakob, their mother, one-armed Uncle Dan, Jakob’s friend Malte, Vega’s classmate Tom, his mother Diana—are all quickly sculpted and clearly expressed; everyone in this short novel has an implied backstory and a credibly guilty secret of their own, a plausible reason why they might be resistant to providing honest answers to Vega’s careful questions about just what has been going on. The truth that is eventually revealed is messy, unsettling, and well handled.

Carlsson has quite rapidly proven himself to be an interesting voice in the quite crowded genre of Swedish crime fiction; October Is The Cruellest Month demonstrates that he’s equally at home with YA.