#BookReview End of Summer by Anders de la Motte @ZaffreBooks

End of SummerAbout 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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My Review

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

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Anders de la MotteAbout the Author

Anders de la Motte is the bestselling author of the ‘Seasons Quartet’; the first three of which – End of Summer, Deeds of Autumn and Dead of Winter – have all been number one bestsellers in Sweden and have been shortlisted for the Swedish Academy of Crime Writers’ Award for Best Crime Novel of the Year. Anders, a former police officer, has already won a Swedish Academy of Crime Award for his debut, Game, in 2010 and his second standalone, The Silenced, in 2015.
To date, the first three books in the ‘Seasons Quartet’ have sold over half a million copies, with the fourth, Rites of Spring, publishing in Sweden in 2020. Set in Southern Sweden, all four books can be read as standalone novels.
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#BookReview The Readers’ Room by Antoine Laurain @BelgraviaB

The Readers' RoomAbout the Book

When the manuscript of a debut crime novel arrives at a Parisian publishing house, everyone in the readers’ room is convinced it’s something special. And the committee for France’s highest literary honour, the Prix Goncourt, agrees.

But when the shortlist is announced, there’s a problem for editor Violaine Lepage: she has no idea of the author’s identity. As the police begin to investigate a series of murders strangely reminiscent of those recounted in the book, Violaine is not the only one looking for answers. And, suffering memory blanks following an aeroplane accident, she’s beginning to wonder what role she might play in the story …

Format: Paperback (176 pages)    Publisher: Gallic Books
Publication date: 17th June 2021 Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Mystery, Literature in Translation

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My Review

I really enjoyed Antoine Laurain’s amusing novel The President’s Hat so had no hesitation in accepting the kind offer by Isabelle Flynn at Gallic Books of a review copy of the new paperback edition of The Readers’ Room, translated by Emily Boyce and Jane Aitken. The Readers’ Room was originally published in hardback in September 2020.

Set in the world of publishing it’s full of references to authors past and present, and to the often tortuous process of getting a book from blank page, to spiral bound manuscript, to finished edition. The book focuses on the gatekeepers of the process at the publishing house where editor Violaine Lepage works – the members of the readers’ room. Their task is to review unsolicited manuscripts in order to sort the wheat from the chaff. Usually it’s mostly the latter but then the manuscript of a novel entitled Sugar Flowers arrives. All the readers agree it’s something out of the ordinary even if its author seems unusually anxious to conceal their identity.

An element of the uncanny is introduced when a series of murders appear to match those in the book. Soon Violaine and the detective investigating the case, Inspector Sophie Tanche, discover they have a mutual interest in tracking down the author of the novel. For Violaine, it’s about maximising the publicity benefits that arise from having published a prize-winning book. For Sophie it’s about successfully solving the murders.

The author, like his fictional counterpart, has fun throwing in all sorts of red herrings to keep the reader guessing whilst at the same time making sly digs at the inner workings of the publishing industry. For instance, the lunches at which editors feed their authors “like fat misanthropic cats they’re hoping to butter up and make purr”. I suspect the author may also have misgivings about the proliferation of modern technology given brief scenes featuring a rather unsettling encounter with an advanced AI program and a sat nav that answers back. Naturally, as a Parisian, the author has no trouble conjuring up the atmosphere of his home city with its grand parks and avenues lined with restaurants, bars and brasseries.

If you subscribe to the view that everyone has a novel in them, you’ll enjoy the following image from early in the book. “All those phantom books form a sort of enveloping cloud around literature like the ozone layer around the earth.” In fact, in the book, Violaine has some rather unearthly encounters with authors such as Marcel Proust and Virginia Woolf.

They say truth is stranger than fiction, but is it? And was Oscar Wilde right when he said “life imitates art far more than art imitates life”? I confess the solution to the mystery when it came didn’t quite live up to the ingenuity of the rest of the book but The Readers’ Room remains an extremely entertaining read.

In three words: Clever, witty, stylish

Try something similar: The Forgers by Bradford Morrow or The 7th Function of Language by Laurent Binet

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Antoine Laurain
Pascal Ito © Flammarion

About the Author

Antoine Laurain is the bestselling author of six previous novels, including The President’s Hat, a Waterstones Book Club pick which won the Prix Landerneau and the Prix Relay des Voyageurs, and was adapted for television, and The Red Notebook which was selected for HRH the Duchess of Cornwall’s Reading Room book club in April 2021. His novels have been translated into more than twenty languages. Antoine was an Author of the Day at London Book Fair 2019. A writer, journalist and antiques collector, he lives in Paris. (Bio/photo credit: Publisher author page)

About the Translators

Jane Aitken is a publisher and translator from the French. Emily Boyce is an editor and in-house translator at Gallic Books.