In The Spotlight: Håkan Östlundh’s The Intruder

SpotlightHello, All,

Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. One of the more interesting contexts for a crime novel is the small island. The sense of isolation, the insularity and the physical setting can all contribute to a strong sense of atmosphere. That’s what we see in Håkan Östlundh’s The Intruder, so let’s turn the spotlight on that novel today.

The story’s focus is Malin Andersson, her husband Henrik Kjellander, and their two children Ellen and Axel. Malin is a professional blogger whose site, Malin’s Table, features natural recipes and home living ideas. Henrik is a professional photographer who’s hoping that their property will attract filmmakers and photographers who want an authentic Swedish island setting. As the story begins, they’re returning to their home on the island of Fårö after an absence. They’re looking forward to settling back into their home and getting back to life.

When they arrive, they find that several dishes and utensils are missing. They also find trash, sticky messes and worse. At first, they both blame the tenants who’ve been staying in their home. It had seemed like a good idea to rent the place out and earn extra money, since they were gone anyway. But now the plan has obviously backfired. Then, Malin finds a mutilated family photograph. That’s not the sort of damage that even a terrible tenant would cause; it’s too personal and deliberate. So the police are called in.

Gotland police detectives Fredrik Broman and Sara Oskarsson have two angles to pursue. One is that one of the tenants has a personal grudge against the family. Another is that someone else – perhaps even a family member – got into the house after the last tenant left, but before Malin and Henrik and their children got home.

The police are still not sure exactly how seriously to take this threat. On the one hand, it could certainly be a case of malicious mischief – bad enough, but not an immediate danger to the family. But Malin in particular fears that it might be much more than a set of mean pranks gone too far. More than once she has the terrible feeling that she’s being watched, although there’s nothing concrete to support her. And there’s the fact that the family has begun to receive anonymous frightening letters.

The police are starting to pick up the pace of their investigation when Ellen disappears. Now the stakes are much higher, and everyone joins in a frantic search for the girl. In the end, we learn the truth about who has targeted the family and why. We also learn that this family history is much more complex than it seems on the surface. It turns out that the past has everything to do with the present danger.

Much of the action takes place on Fårö, with some on Gotland. Readers get a clear sense of what island life is like. For instance, there is one local grocery store, but any real shopping requires either a ferry trip to Gotland or even a trip to the mainland. There are some local schools, but a lot of children take the ferry to school. In other ways, too, island life can be isolating. Even in today’s world of online commerce, daily living on the island can be frustrating, especially if the power goes out. And yet, it’s naturally beautiful. And there’s an appeal to the slower pace and smaller community of the island.

Another important element in this novel is the sense of violation that comes from having one’s home invaded. If you’ve ever had your home broken into, you know how frightening that is. The fact that the person responsible is keeping up a campaign of fear makes it even eerier. And there is of course the terror that any loving parent would feel when a child goes missing.

Some of the story is told from Fredrik Broman’s point of view, so readers learn about his character. Broman is just returning to work after a two-year absence during which he was recovering from devastating injuries caused by an accident. On the one hand, he’s still dealing with issues from that accident. It’s changed his family dynamics, and it’s had an impact on how he’s perceived at work. On the other, Borman has a loving relationship with his wife Ninni, and strong bonds with his sons Joakim and Simon. The family has its ups and downs as many families do. But Borman is certainly functional and stable.

Since Broman is a police detective, there’s also a sense of the police procedural about this novel. Readers follow along as he and Oskarsson follow up leads, interview people, make sense of forensics evidence, and so on. There isn’t the sense of departmental politics that there sometimes is in police procedurals. That said though, there is concern about Borman’s readiness to take on what turns out to be a dark, ugly, complicated investigation.

The story is also told in part from Malin’s point of view and, sometimes, from Henrik’s. So readers also get a sense of their characters. One of the things that comes out in this novel is that even people who are in solid marriages can have secrets from each other. Their relationship may not be perfect (is anyone’s?), but they do love one another. We see, too, how the experience of being stalked wears on both of them and impacts their relationship. So, of course, does the awful strain of having their daughter go missing.

This is not a light, easy novel with a ‘storybook’ ending. Some aspects of it are very dark, and all is not well again in the end. In that sense, it’s very, very sad, and it’s a story where one could ask, ‘What if?’ in a few places. And yet, there is also the sense that life will go on. There isn’t the completely bleak hopelessness in this novel that there is in some dark noir stories.

The Intruder is the story of the impact on a family of being stalked and targeted. It also shows the effect of past history and of keeping secrets. The novel takes place against a distinctive backdrop, and shows the way a police team works when a family is threatened. But what’s your view? Have you read The Intruder? If you have, what elements do you see in it?


Coming Up On In The Spotlight


Monday 20 July/Tuesday 21 July – Jamaica Inn – Daphne du Maurier

Monday 27 July/Tuesday 28 July – The Blackhouse – Peter May

Monday 3 August/Tuesday 4 August – Working Girls – Maureen Carter


Filed under Håkan Östlundh, The Intruder

26 responses to “In The Spotlight: Håkan Östlundh’s The Intruder

  1. I’ve not read this book or writer, but I have seen the Island on a TV drama -the name of which I have forgotten for now. It is the small village/sealed room sort of plot from what you have said…and these always intrigue me. I love the idea of a seemingly normal family with hidden secrets, which are dragged into the present, and the police procedural in other cultures is always fascinating. Another one to look out for. Thanks. By the way – cannot wait for Daphne Du Maurier….and what you have to say.

    • I’m looking forward to talking about Jamaica Inn too, Jane. Knowing the terrific people who stop by here and comment, I’m sure it’l lbe a fantastic discussion. As to The Intruder, you do get rather a closed-in sense about the island, although there is the ferry and so on. It’s a bit like those smaller communities you find on the Shetlands and some other UK island communities. And you’re right about this family. There are certainly layers that have to be peeled back to find out the truth about what’s happening to the family and why. I think that part of it adds to the suspense.

      • It does sound a fab read. I have not come across the author before, but shall seek and look. I love closed communities, so much festering beneath the surface quite often, but glossed over for the sake of being able to rub along together. Then there is that event – the catalyst which brings it all to the surface and nothing can keep the lid on once it blows. Such fun…sad person that I am. 🙂

  2. Sounds like an interesting one! I’ve just started reading ‘The Last Refuge’ by Craig Robertson, which is set on the Faroe Isles which (my sense of geography being terrible!) I suspect is probably a similar kind of society to the island in this one. Haven’t read much but so far the sense of place in it seems terrific! And prior to that I’ve just finished Sharon Bolton’s ‘Little Black Lies’ set on the Falkland Islands, which I’m positive is nowhere near these ones (!) but nonetheless has that same isolated and rugged feel you get from these island settings. I always find islands to be a great setting – the sense of being cut off adds atmosphere.

    • Oh I think it does, too, FictionFan. I can say without spoiling the novel that the plot doesn’t involve a sudden awful storm that cuts everyone off. But you still do get that feeling of being a bit disconnected from everyone else. And I think Östlundh does an effective job with that aspect. I’ll be interested in what you think of the Robertson when you’ve finished with it; I hear good things about it. And Bolton can certainly tell a good story, too. I hope if you read this one, that you enjoy it.

  3. Oh, Margot, you do manage to make every single spolighted (spot-lit?) book sound so enticing! Sigh!

    • Ahem – I’d say turnabout is fair play and all that, Marina Sofia 😉 – In all seriousness, I know exactly what you mean about not having the time to read what one might want. I have exactly the same problem…

  4. Keishon

    I’ve put this book on my wishlist. I can’t wait to see what you have to say about Jamica Inn, Margot. I’ve only read one book by Daphne du Maurier and that was Rebecca from years and years ago. Did you read any other gothic novels you’ve enjoyed? I read Victoria Holt while still in high school, introduced to me by my mother. Mary Stewart is good as well. I need to get back to reading them.

  5. This does sound intriguing – the setting is a new one to me, but the situation sounds universal, we can all imagine how we’d feel if that happened. You’ve definitely sold me on this one. Again. I feel like Marina Sofia above…

    • The setting was actually new to me, too, Moira, and I think Östlundh depicts it effectively. I think he also depicts the impact of what happens on the family, too. I’ll be keen to know what you think of this one if you read it, Moira. Oh, and I’ll say to you what I said to Marina Sofia… turnabout… 😉

  6. I haven’t read The Intruder, but it seems to be right up my alley. I love mystery/thrillers that are set someplace where one can feel how vulnerable the characters are. It just ramps the stakes up to the perfect heights.

    • I know exactly what you mean, Misha. The island setting in this case certainly adds to the context, and it adds a sense of tension too. And Östlundh does that subtly, without including, say, a giant storm that cuts everyone off.

  7. Patti Abbott

    This sounds very good and I will put it on my endless books to be bought list. Thanks!

  8. Col

    New author, interesting book, same old story – too much already!

  9. I have not The Intruder. Sounds good, though.

  10. I do like island settings. The dark aspects of a stalking story is not so attractive but I am working on opening myself up to new reading experiences. I will put the author on a list to watch for.

    • I think island settings can work really well, Tracy. It’s funny; there are a lot of stalking stories that I think are done awfully badly. Normally it’s not a plot point I’d reach for first. But once in a while, it can work.

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