It can be perilous to venture into well-trodden subgenre territory, even if you have the talent that Tom Rob Smith demonstrated with his suspenseful Child 44 trilogy.

With his fourth novel, The Farm, Smith is venturing into the territory of Scandinavian thrillers, which first caught international fire thanks to the fiction of the late Stieg Larsson. It’s a field associated with deep, dark family secrets, long-buried crimes and shocking revelations. In The Farm, Smith manages to simultaneously deliver the goods promised by this subgenre and also something completely unexpected. The result is a thriller you shouldn’t miss.

When his parents sell their London home and relocate to a remote farm in his mother’s homeland of Sweden, Daniel is convinced they’re headed for a quiet retirement. Then he gets a call from his father informing him that his mother has had some kind of mental breakdown, that she’s imagining awful things. He’s prepared to go and tend to her, until he gets another call from his father, this one telling him his mother has checked herself out of the hospital and disappeared.

Tom Rob Smith weaves a satisfyingly juicy web of deception in The Farm.

The next call is from his mother, and it’s even more alarming than his father’s news. Daniel’s mother claims his father can’t be trusted, that he’s part of a terrible conspiracy in their rural Swedish district, that he’s been seduced by a powerful farmer into doing something horrible. Daniel’s father insists his mother is mad. Daniel’s mother insists his father is a monster. Caught between them, Daniel has no choice but to go to Sweden himself and investigate what’s really happening.

From the very first page, The Farm has all the trappings of a thriller with a deep, dark conspiracy at its heart, but Smith isn’t content to stick to formulas. Through a first-person narrative that allows us to view this drama through Daniel’s always engaging eyes, he weaves in and out of secrets and truths, sins and redemptions, crafting a thriller that weaves a satisfyingly juicy web of deception and is also an unpredictable page-turner. It’s a rare thing to see an author so completely embody the trappings of his genre and also surprise the reader, but Smith achieves it with The Farm. Child 44 fans as well as those looking to get lost in an immersive thriller will find this a gripping read.

 

This article was originally published in the June 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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