When Daniel’s father calls from Sweden to tell him his mother has been committed to a psychiatric hospital, Daniel tells his father, “I’ll book a flight for the morning.” But by morning, his father has already called back. “Daniel, she’s not here!” Daniel’s mother has checked herself out of the hospital and it isn’t long before she calls Daniel and tells him, “I’m sure your father has spoken to you. Everything that man has told you is a lie. I’m not mad. I don’t need a doctor. I need the police. I’m about to board a flight to London. Meet me at Heathrow…”
Tom Rob Smith begins The Farm with a great story premise. It’s filled with mystery and suspense and puts Daniel in an intriguing dilemma – who is telling the truth?
Tilde arrives in London carrying a beat-up satchel, stuffed with chronological evidence implicating her husband, Chris, and others in a violent crime. What follows is a marathon tale of what was supposed to have been a happy retirement on a farm in Tilde’s native Sweden. It’s a race against time because Chris is on his way and will almost certainly commit her to a hospital in London.
The momentum builds, as Smith introduces many mysterious characters with questionable motives. He blurs the lines by adding images of giant elk, fairy tale trolls, Swedish customs and harsh winters. Tilde’s rambling account of events on the farm at times seems plausible, but at other times her story seems far-fetched, her observations more and more paranoid.
I enjoyed reading The Farm because of this interesting storyline, however, its momentum met an abrupt and unsatisfying open-ended finish, with limited explanation. It’s a curious mix of a modern story frame, filled with folk tales, local lore and characters with nearly superhuman physical fitness. Tilde swims out into a chilly river, rows boats, hauls wheelbarrows, paints barns, runs, and rides her bike everywhere, often in the middle of the night. Perhaps I’m just new to the style of this genre. To be fair, Smith’s style reminds me a little of Stieg Larsson’s great Dragon Tattoo trilogy, in which the main character, Lisbeth Salander is one tough heroine. His characters, especially Lisbeth, are also tremendously strong and tough. Maybe the authors are just having a little fun while they write. I think Stieg pulls it off beautifully. I’m not sure about Smith…
The Farm is my second book by Smith. I recently read Child 44 and enjoyed this crime thriller, now a movie. I’m not sure why, but in both books Smith has chosen to establish a quirky writing style, using the contractions “should’ve”, “could’ve” and “would’ve” throughout. I find that distracting. In addition, Daniel refers to his mother throughout the book as “my mum” which comes across as a little juvenile and takes away from Daniel’s character.
Overall, however, I found The Farm entertaining, despite its ending and can picture this as a movie. It will be interesting to see what kind of story Smith publishes next.
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