The Farm, by Tom Rob Smith (2014)

FarmDaniel is walking back to the London flat he shares with Mark when his mobile rings. It’s his father. “Your mother – she’s not well.” Not well at all; she’s in a psychiatric ward in Sweden, where Daniel’s parents retired just months before. Daniel immediately books a flight, and spends the night wondering if he’s missed the signs in emails from his mother. He’s also feeling guilty that he still hasn’t come out to his parents as a gay man, something he keeps promising Mark he will do. Waiting at the airport, the phone rings again. It’s his mother. “Everything your father has told you is a lie.” She tells him she’s flying to London and to wait for her there. Well. Now what? Smith is the author of the Leo Dimitov spy trilogy that begins with Child 44, longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and being released as a film this year. This is quite different – a psychological thriller/domestic mystery, told almost entirely as a conversation between Daniel and his mother, but set in Sweden. I had no idea where it was going, and enjoyed the complicated plot and slow reveals immensely. I twigged early to a key clue but still missed the resolution, which makes it quite satisfying. The writing is strong – the farm in Sweden is alive on the page, and Smith makes full use of the unforgiving landscape and suspicious town, turning them practically into characters. However, it’s not without its flaws. I wanted more from Mark’s character than an understanding moneybags; Daniel’s father needs much more development for me to connect with his story, and frankly, I still don’t understand the adoption angle. But I enjoyed how quickly the book ended, almost exactly on the reveal and without any denouement. I’m impressed enough that I’ll be requesting a copy of Child 44.
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