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Sankta Psyko Johan Theorin, Sankta Psyko (Saint Psycho's)

Wahlström & Widstrand,  2011. ISBN: 9789146221227

Reviewed by Martin Murrell in SBR 2012:1

This intriguing work is a multi-layered mystery, which slips gradually from realism into mild fantasy as the narrative proceeds, and while the reader is halfconscious of this slight genre shift, the suspense grows and there is nothing for it but to read on. Three periods in the life of the protagonist, preschool teacher Jan Hauger, weave in and out of one another in separate chapters. One set (10 chapters in all) relates a traumatic experience he had at the age of 14, when he was subjected to an act of gross physical abuse, leading almost to his death and his subsequent attempt to commit suicide. During its aftermath, the period he spent in a psychiatric clinic, he met Alice Rami, a girl of similar age. Rami, as she calls herself, haunts him to the end, appearing again in person, in the present, in the final chapter, in a resolution that could well be the beginning of a sequel.

Another strand (15 chapters in all) recounts a revenge adventure involving a brief kidnapping of a child by Jan when in an earlier temporary preschool teaching post. The third, and main, part of the novel (56 chapters) follows his present life at the age of 29, from his interview for a new temporary post to a second horrific life-changing event. This strand is throughout in the present tense, conveyed in free indirect speechand thought as well as through dialogueand it carries the reader along fast withits lucidity and strong narrative pulse.

Suspense is maintained both bythe drop-by-drop revelation of pastevents and by Jan’s present attitudeand occasionally aberrant behaviour –though, it must be said, with the childrenhe is caring, competent and very wellliked by them. The preschool thatemploys him is attached by a maze ofunderground passageways and rooms,many no longer regularly used, to theregional clinic, Saint Patricia’s, familiarlyknown as Saint Psycho’s, a securefacility that houses mentally disturbedcriminals. Children of the inmates arebrought to the preschool by their carers or foster parents, while some also board there, so that they can have regular access to their imprisoned parent. One of Jan’s duties is to escort the children from preschool to clinic and back by means of certain corridors and lifts. The setting is made for nailbiting events. And with a fall over a cliff at the climax, it is indeed a cliffhanger of a book, though for some readers the situation may appear far-fetched.

The orthodox reader will naturally enjoy the chapters in the order in which they are presented, but since the three strands of the storyare clearly designated, I felt a strongcompulsion to read each strand in turn,partly to reduce the degree of suspenseand partly in deference to my curiosityThis procedure, which the paper versionof the book facilitates, is, I submit, therogue reader’s prerogative. On a quicksecond reading of the novel I tried itthis way and found it helped me to get abetter grip on the plot.

As I hinted above, in the lastchapter we are no longer treated toJan’s consciousness but to anothercharacter’s, his colleague Hanna’s, whichis surely the springboard to anotherthriller.

Also by Johan Theorin

  • Blodläge (A Place of Blood). Reviewed by Marlaine Delargy in SBR 2010:2.

Other reviews by Martin Murrell

Other reviews in SBR 2012:1

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