The Silver Road

Written by Stina Jackson

Review written by Gwen Moffat

Gwen Moffat lives in Cumbria. Her novels are set in remote communities ranging from the Hebrides to the American West. The crimes fit their environment, swelling that dreadful record of sin in the smiling countryside cited by Sherlock Holmes. The style echoes this: rustic charm masking horror.

The Silver Road
RRP: £10.41
Released: March 07, 2019

Three years ago Lelle dropped his 16-year old daughter at the school bus stop and drove away. The bus arrived, Lina had disappeared and no one has seen her since. That is, no one is reported, or admits to having seen her. And for three years, further wasted by his broken marriage and alcoholism, Lelle has haunted the road to the old silver mines searching for her.

Now, after a life of aimless drifting, a single mother, another desperate soul ravaged by drink and drugs, with a 16-year-old daughter in tow, leaves Stockholm to come to the far north of Sweden and join her latest potential partner, an elderly hunter roughing it in the forest. The girl, Meja, is a streetwise townie, frightened of the dense tree cover and everything it may conceal, torn between the need to escape and the compulsion to stay and care for her vulnerable mother. Meja is obviously destined to be the hero of this tale which is told in short alternate sections, jumping without continuity from the bereft father to the lonely girl and back.

Lelle has a cop friend, Hassan, and through him Lelle learns what the police are doing, which is nothing after initial searches proved fruitless. The consensus was that Lina was abducted but apart from questioning all the truck driver known to have used the Silver Road around the relevant time, of trying to find every passing motorist, local and tourist, no clue has been uncovered.

Lelle has long given up railing against the police, but still he seizes on the wispiest rumour of a new suspect: a hobo in the forest, a drunken boy who had been heard to boast of his involvement in Lina’s disappearance. His progress is marked with confrontations that come to nothing while somehow, despite the drink and smoking himself to death, his lack of food and continual dishevelment Lelle continues to take maths classes at Lina’s, and now Meja’s school.

Meja isn’t interested in school and only marginally attracted by a class mate, the cool Crow with her weird make-up and body piercing. For Meja has fallen hopelessly in love with Carl-Johan, another forest dweller but this one with an integrated family: survivalists living the good life on their farm, without drink or drugs or smart phones, but with lots of animals and underground bunkers and food stores and an arsenal of weapons, all to sustain them when the “end time” comes.

Birger, the patriarch, over-bearing and brooking no argument, lives by his own rules and a credo based on subversive podcasts from America. He has made it his goal to indoctrinate his sons, a plan which has covertly misfired, while Anita, his big powerful wife, watches quietly, goes with the flow and remains an unknown quantity.

Fascinated by the unique community, obsessed with Carl-Johan, Meja joins the family, resisting all attempts by her mother and her new man to return home. She learns to look after the hens, submits to hugs but is wary of hands, ignores her school mate Crow’s lewd gossip and spends steamy nights with Carl-Johan under the midnight sun.

And then quite near the end the survivalists’ “end time” arrives but not what anyone intended, all except the reader who has been informed by the blurb (unfortunately) that the despairing father and Meja, for so long running parallel courses, are going to come together, continuity achieved by an unidentified person and everything slotting neatly into place.

Bleak and depressing. Generally pedestrian, redeemed by ultimate violence but, despite its being a debut novel, unoriginal.

Translated by Susan Beard

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