Natur och Kultur, 2016.
Reviewed by Annie Prime in SBR 2016:2
Review Section: Fiction - Adult
Vattnet Drar is a slow-burning horror story that weaves magic and gore into an otherwise realistic portrayal of a dystopian Gävle. It is both the first of a trilogy and a well-rounded stand-alone story.
The opening chapters introduce a variety of teenagers and twenty- somethings. In a small town that offers few opportunities, they seem to have little in common except their itching youth and the fact that their lives share a grim sort of softcore seediness. Viktor comes from a broken home with an alcoholic father. Calle is a brute who mistreats his girlfriend. Together they break into a church to steal a valuable Madonna figurine. While inside, Viktor finds himself irresistibly drawn to an unusual stone and is compelled to dislodge it from the church floor. It feels warm and light, and fits perfectly into his hand. He slips it into the waistband of his trousers and keeps it there, telling no one.
The disturbance of the stone awakens an ancient evil.
Celia and Beata are best friends and they like to party. After a night out, Celia abandons Beata for a guy she just met – not unusual behaviour for her. But when Beata hears nothing from her for several days, she becomes concerned. When she pays Celia a visit, she finds her enraptured with her new beau in a most unnatural way. Beata finds him instinctively unnerving and knows in her bones that her friend is in danger.
Krister is a sensitive fellow who works in animal welfare thanks to his uncanny knack for dealing with animals. He seems like a normal guy living a quiet life, but starts suffering from strange episodes: water-induced vertigo and blackouts; vivid dreams of a murderous, man-like creature.
A girl is found dead by a lake and a murder investigation ensues, followed by Jäder, local journalist and friend of Krister. Meanwhile, the stone is having an increasingly powerful effect on Viktor, making him feel hot, strong and uncontrollably horny...
Though the novel is billed as crossover fantasy, there are many more threads to it than first meet the eye. Social realism is the backdrop for a slow build-up of eerie tension. A raw energy of sex, violence and the supernatural bubbles just below the surface.
The separate stories unfold and merge in a way that keeps the reader guessing and hungry at all times, and – despite ample forewarning – unprepared for the utter horror that ensues. A dark sort of primal sexual energy takes over the town, bringing with it an animalistic violence. Deliciously vile scenes are graphic enough to titillate but brief enough to shock, as the story slips seamlessly from thriller into horror, with sprinklings of dark fantasy reminiscent of fairy tales.
The interwoven genres strike me as a very Swedish combination: dangerous sprites lurking in the water and woods, discontented youth getting drunk in a small town, and a sparky journalist trying to uncover the trail of a murder. Social realism, horror and fantasy are skilfully integrated to create a coherent and satisfying plot, meticulously timed and, above all, genuinely chilling.
Bäck has also managed to leave just enough unfinished and unexplained that I for one am already looking forward to – and almost dreading – the developments that the second and third instalments of the trilogy have in store.