About the Book
You can always go home. But you can never go back…
Summer 1983: Four-year-old Billy chases a rabbit in the fields behind his house. But when his mother goes to call him in, Billy has disappeared. Never to be seen again.
Today: Veronica is a bereavement counsellor. She’s never fully come to turns with her mother’s suicide after her brother Billy’s disappearance. When a young man walks into her group, he looks familiar and talks about the trauma of his friend’s disappearance in 1983. Could Billy still be alive after all this time?
Needing to know the truth, Veronica goes home – to the place where her life started to fall apart. But is she really prepared for the answers that wait for her there?
Format: Paperback (480 pages) Publisher: Zaffre
Publication date: 19th August 2021 Genre: Crime, Mystery
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End of Summer was first published in Sweden in 2016 where it was shortlisted for Novel of the Year in the Swedish Crime Writers’ Academy Awards. Now available in English, it’s the second book in the ‘Seasons Quartet’ with Dead of Winter and Deeds of Autumn due out in January and October 2022 respectively, joining Rites of Spring which was published in April 2021, although each book is a standalone story.
End of Summer unfolds in alternating chapters, moving between past and present – the summer of 1983 and the present day. For me this structure really worked as I was constantly wondering what was going to happen next in the other timeline, although later in the book, one of the timelines predominates. Throughout the book the author’s ability to deliver a teasing last line adds to the suspense, as does the occasional inclusion of a series of letters from an undisclosed correspondent, the significance of which only becomes evident in the closing chapters.
As the mystery of Billy Nilsson’s disappearance remains unresolved, the reader sees played out the disturbing effect it has on the family, the small community of Reftinge in which they live, and the police officer charged with investigating it, Chief of Police Månsson. Unfamiliar with investigating a crime of this magnitude, Månsson feels out of his depth but deeply conscious of his obligation to provide an answer for the Nilsson family. Månsson can’t help imagining what it would be like if it was one of his own sons who had gone missing. At one point he reflects, “I’m doing my best… I’m trying to be a good husband, a good father. A good police officer.” I found him a very empathetic character. The pressure on Månsson only increases when what evidence there is seems to point to a particular individual.
Moving to the present day, Billy’s sister, Vera, has reinvented herself as Veronica. The reasons for this remain tantalizingly unclear for much of the book; all the reader knows is that she seems to have experienced more than one traumatic event in her life. Ironically, Veronica is now working as a bereavement counsellor running grief therapy sessions at which those attending share the impact of their loss. The author shows a deft touch here, one phrase in particular sticking in my mind: the description of the tears shed by a member of the group as being ‘tiny, translucent pearls of grief’. An unxpected arrival at one of Veronica’s sessions triggers disturbing memories and sets in motion a chain of events which increasingly spirals out of control, triggering feelings of panic and paranoia.
When Veronica returns home to the family farm at the urging of her brother Mattias, Reftinge seen through her eyes is rather rundown. However, that feeling is soon replaced by the spine-tingling atmosphere the author creates as Veronica pursues her own investigation into the disappearance of her brother, heedless to the risks she runs in doing so. But how much of what she experiences is imagined, how much is real?
The author lays down plenty of false trails that certainly had me foxed. I developed several theories but the answer to the question ‘Where is Billy?’ when it is finally revealed definitely wrong-footed me. The solution was both more complex and more heartrending than anything I could have come up with.
End of Summer is a compelling mystery but also an absorbing and insightful picture of a family coping with the disappearance of a child: the unanswered questions, the dashed hopes, and the sense of absence. I found it absolutely gripping from start to finish and it’s a book I definitely won’t forget in a hurry. I must also commend the translator, Neil Smith. If I hadn’t known, I certainly wouldn’t have guessed the book was originally written in Swedish.
My thanks to Clare Kelly at Zaffre for my proof copy of End of Summer. I shall certainly be looking out for future books in the series.
In three words: Gripping, moving, masterful
Try something similar: The Missing Girl by Jenny Quintana