The whispering dead in Johan Theorin’s The Darkest Room are an essential part of the book’s dark, eerie atmosphere. Their whispers haunt characters who are struggling to come to terms with the crimes of the past. This conjunction of crime fiction and the supernatural has been treated in two fascinating recent studies: Sian MacArthur’s Crime and the Gothic (2011) and Michael Cook’s Detective Fiction and the Ghost Story: The Haunted Text (2014). Both discuss crime fiction’s underlying affinity with the gothic, analyzing the numerous ways it deploys the structures, language and imagery of supernatural horror and the ghost story.
In this review, we’re looking at a small selection of excellent novels published over the past few years that have brought echoes of the Gothic into crime fiction. Scandinavian writers have been particularly successful in creating crime narratives that incorporate ancestral beliefs in ghosts, premonitions, and other supernatural phenomena. We highly recommend the work of two of the most powerful and compelling Nordic crime writers, the Swedish author of the Öland Quartet, Johan Theorin, and the Icelandic writer Yrsa Sigurdadottir: our review includes Theorin’s The Darkest Room (2009) and The Voices Beyond (2015); and Sigurdadottir’s I Remember You (2012) and The Silence of the Sea (2014). An inclination towards gothic themes is also evident in a range of other contemporary crime novels. Sian MacArthur discusses, for example, the work of Gerritson, Slaughter and Rankin, amongst others, and our own review focuses on a tense and disquieting gothic noir thriller by Mark Edwards, Follow You Home (2015). In the work of all three of the writers reviewed here, living characters listen fearfully to the voices of the dead. Whether or not the ghosts assume an undeniable reality, these deeply unsettling reminders of past acts of violence tear characters from any secure sense of day-to-day reality, reshaping the course of their lives. Read all of our reviews of Johan Theorin, Yrsa Sigurrottir and Mark Edwards.