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Tuesday, 29 April 2014

‘The Devil’s Sanctuary’ by Marie Hermanson

Published by Trapdoor,
25th July 2013.
ISBN: 978-1-84744-577-3

 This is a serious warning:  don’t begin this book if you have a meal, a meeting or an urgent appointment any time soon.  You won’t make it.

This wonderful Swedish thriller begins with Daniel Brandt receiving a letter from his twin brother, Max.  The brothers were brought up mainly apart, meeting only on their shared birthday, and Max’s bizarre behaviour in the past means that Daniel regards any contact with wariness.  However Max is now in a Swiss clinic which is helping him manage his bi-polar disorder, and all he’s asking Daniel to do is visit.  When Daniel arrives at the heavily-guarded Himmelstal, Max persuades him to change places, just for a few days, so that Max can leave to sort out his finances ... except that he doesn’t return, and when Daniel tries to persuade the doctors that he isn’t Max, nobody believes him.

The set-up’s a compelling one – twin swaps and identity loss are a sure-fire draw.  Daniel’s likeable straight away as a decent guy with problems of his own.  Anyone who’s ever played sibling power games (and that’s all sibs) will sympathise with his ambivalence about Max’s intentions.  When he’s tricked into staying, as Max, then you’re willing him to prove his identity.  However as he’s drawn into the reality of ‘Heaven Valley’, identity becomes less important than escape from the twisted reality.

The (translated) prose is simple and compelling, the description of the alpine scenery atmospheric.  The characters are intriguingly bizarre, and increasingly sinister, until you’re as unsure as Daniel who he can trust.  This book is a straight roller-coaster ride, moving through action to discovery and more discovery.  It’s not particularly gruesome.  There are no fashionable flashbacks, and the third-person narration is generally centred on Daniel, with the occasional move to Dr Obermann’s head.  The author knows she’s thought up a terrific story, and she gets on with holding her audience spell-bound.  Enjoy.
Reviewer: Marsali Taylor

Marie Hermanson was born in Sweden in 1956. She published her first book in 1986. Her novels are huge bestsellers in Sweden. She lives in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Marsali Taylor grew up near Edinburgh, and came to Shetland as a newly-qualified teacher. She is currently a part-time teacher on Shetland's scenic west side, living with her husband and two Shetland ponies. Marsali is a qualified STGA tourist-guide who is fascinated by history, and has published plays in Shetland's distinctive dialect, as well as a history of women's suffrage in Shetland. She's also a keen sailor who enjoys exploring in her own 8m yacht, and an active member of her local drama group.  Marsali also does a regular monthly column for the Mystery People e-zine.

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