A gripping, suspensful psychological thriller from one of the Queens of Scandinavian crime fiction.
Eva and Henrik have been living together for fifteen years and have a son together. Eva suddenly realizes that her husband is seeing another woman. In anger and desperation, she decides to seek revenge. At the same time, a young man has for the past two years been watching by a hospital bed where his girlfriend lies in a coma after an accident. But his year-ning for closeness is growing excruciating. She keeps letting him down by refusing to wake up. Deceit deals with how devastating it can be to be let down and how our destructive actions create consequences far beyond our control. The destiny of Jonas and Eva is the consequence of other people’s actions and it is by chance that the roads of these two people cross...
As the novel begins, we meet Eva Wirenström-Berg and her husband Henrik. They’ve been married for fifteen years and are the parents of six-year-old Axel. Everything’s gone along smoothly enough in their lives but Eva has suspected for quite some time that Henrik isn’t happy any more. He won’t confide in her though. She too is unhappy, mostly because of the way Henrik has distanced himself, but she’s determined to make a secure home for Axel and a good future for them all.
Besides, every time she’s tried to find out what’s going on, he’s shut her out. Then Eva discovers that Henrik has been unfaithful. Worse, she finds out who his new love is. Hurt and betrayed, Eva decides to take revenge against them both (And no, this isn’t one of those ‘scorned woman takes hatchet to philandering husband’ novels – promise).
In the meantime, we are also introduced to Jonas Hansson, who has his own tragedy to face. The product of a very unhappy childhood, Jonas found his solace in his fiancée Anna. Then she nearly drowned in a fall from the pier of a local boat club. She’s been in a coma since then and Jonas visits her daily at the hospital. In fact, he stays there whenever he can, often overnight. At first, the hospital staff members (and the reader) are impressed with Jonas’ devotion to Anna. But soon it becomes clear that he’s not dealing with his loss in a healthy way and that in general he’s a very unhappy and psychologically unwell person. Slowly, we learn more about his background and how that has affected him. For years he’s been carrying the burden of his parents’ dysfunction and that has left very deep and troubling scars.
Then one night, Eva and Jonas happen to meet in a local pub. After that meeting things begin to spiral out of control for both of them. In the end the decisions that each one of them takes have tragic consequences for nearly everyone. I don’t think it’s giving away spoilers to say that in this novel, we see how devastating the results of lies and betrayals can be.One of the most important elements in this novel – and it really adds to the suspense – is the tissue of lies that many of the characters have created. The obvious betrayal is Henrik’s unfaithfulness to his wife. But it goes beyond that. Eva isn’t really honest either and neither is Jonas. There are other characters too whose lies lead to betrayal. And part of the sadness in the story is that if they’d just been honest in the first place, much of what happens in the story could have been prevented.
But these characters are not one-dimensional nasty people. For instance, most people would probably disagree with Eva’s choices when she finds out about her husband’s affair. And yet we can’t help but have sympathy for her. She dreamed of a happy home with a loving family and her sense of betrayal and anger are very real. And she never could have imagined the consequences of what she does. We can say what we want about Henrik’s philandering, but as we get to know him we see why he feels so unhappy. Eva is not a perfect wife any more than he is a perfect husband.
The characters act based on what they believe, which is not necessarily the truth. As we watch the drama unfold, there’s a real urge to call out warnings and reassurances.
Another tool Alvtegen uses to build the suspense is what you might call the slow reveal. We do learn the truth about everyone in the story but it happens bit by bit. So as the novel moves along there are several unexpected and sometimes eerie reveals that put everything into increasingly clear focus.
It’s not too cliché to say that Betrayal is the story of different lives on a collision course.
It’s the story of what can happen when people are not honest with themselves and with each other. The action moves along swiftly and the suspense builds enough to call this a thriller. And yet the pace allows us to get to know the characters, the way they think and the reasons for their choices.
About Karin Alvtegen:
Missing was awarded the premier Scandinavian crime writing award the Glass Key in 2001 and was also nominated for the Poloni Award and Best Crime Novel 2000 in Sweden.Shame was shortlisted for the Crime Writers' Association Duncan Lawrie International Dagger award for crime novels in translation upon publication in English.
Alvtegen lives in Stockholm. She is grand-niece of the popular children's novelist Astrid Lindgren.