cover image The Forbidden Place

The Forbidden Place

Susanne Jansson, trans. from the Swedish by Rachel Willson-Broyles. Grand Central, $26 (352p) ISBN 978-1-5387-1305-1

Biologist Nathalie Ström, one of the two heroines of Jansson’s uneven first novel, is living temporarily in a cottage in Mossmarken, Sweden, where she’s measuring greenhouse gases on the local peat bog, reputed to have been the site of human sacrifices long ago. She becomes friendly with art school student Johannes Ayeb, who regularly jogs past her cottage. One day, Johannes is found unconscious on a jogging path; a head injury suggests he had been assaulted. Artist and forensic photographer Maya Linde becomes involved in the subsequent investigation, which leads to a chain of grisly bog-centered discoveries—and each woman to new realizations about her life and career. Nathalie is haunted by the loss of her parents in an apparent murder-suicide, while Maya, who lived in the area in years past, tries to repair a damaged relationship. Fascinating historical material, especially about “bog bodies” found through the ages, compensates only in part for shallow characterizations and awkward plotting. Hopefully, Jansson will do better next time. Agent: Astri Von Arbin Ahlander, Ahlander Agency (Sweden). (Sept.)