Wednesday, June 9, 2021

M.T. Edvardsson - A Nearly Normal Family

Eighteen-year-old Stella Sandell stands accused of the brutal murder of a man almost fifteen years her senior. She is an ordinary teenager from a respectable local family. What reason could she have to know a shady businessman, let alone to kill him?
Told in an unusual three-part structure, this gripping, domestic drama pushes a family to its limits. The father, a pastor, believes his daughter can only be innocent, despite mounting evidence. The mother, a defense attorney, believes no one is telling the truth. And the daughter, desperate for her dreams of the future, believes no one understands how far she is willing to go.
In this complex, multi-layered novel, every character's loyalty and morality is tested. Are we duty-bound to defend our family, even with the evidence against them? Is anyone who they seem on the surface? And what are we willing to compromise to keep our lives, as we know them, intact?

Comment: While browsing my local library I saw this book in the shelf and I remembered someone I know who likes thrillers/mysteries had said this was a good story. Since it was available, I decided to bring it with me and give it a go.

When this story begins, the Sandell family seems to be idyllic but we soon learn the daughter, Stella, has been accused of murder and is in prison waiting trial. The parents Adam and Ulkira then try their  best to clear their daughter's name and look for clues of what could have happened because, surely, their daughter being held has to be a mistake. However, as the information starts to unravel about Stella's actions and the things she kept a secret, we also learn the parents have some things they don't want others to know. Could it be this seemingly perfect family isn't that after all?

The author is Swedish and the action takes place in Sweden. I found this to be one of the best elements of the book, especially because we get to see a little bit of how things work in Sweden, when it comes to justice and courtroom protocols. The book isn't centered on this, though, but there are enough references and scenes - especially closer to the end as one can foresee - to give an idea of how it must be like.

The book is divided into three parts, and we have the story being told from the POV of the father, Adam, then Stella's and finally Ulrika, the mother. Each one has a distinctive voice and personality and we infer as much from what is happening on the page as from each one reacts to what is being told. I liked this style because it allows the reader to have a broader idea about what makes these characters be the way they are and why they act and react without things being too obvious or tirelessly described.

Despite this, I confess I expected something more from the story but mostly, from what ticked the characters. They are all flawed somehow which we can say makes them more human, closer to any real person. However, I also wanted to root for them somehow, I wanted to feel the parent's plight to help Stella and I wanted to commiserate with Stella for what was happening to her. Obviously, everyone hides something, there are always things we don't want to share with others, family included, so my issue wasn't with the need to have secrets or that the characters did morally dubious things. What I wanted though, was to connect with them, to respect their actions or to hate them if that was what the author wanted, but in the end my impression towards the main characters was more one of slight indifference.

Adam, the father, is peculiar simply because he works as a pastor for the Church of Sweden. Obviously his profession already makes the reader assume something but I think his character was, overall, a little under developed. He also felt a bit too naive for the kind of past he had before he joined the Church. Ulrika, the mother, was a surprise because she seemed to me the least developed character, first by the way she was seen by the other two and also because of her own POV chapters, which were less. As for Stella, the daughter, she is the one I struggled to like the most. Not the that parents were great by comparison, but I feel it was rather disappointing he was just another rebel teenager caught in something out of her control. Even more so when she is characterized as smart and unique...

I feel the big twist to solve Stella's situation was quite bland. I mean, it makes sense for the type of situation and the action taking place in a country whose reality, real or enhanced, isn't as known or visible in Hollywood movies as so often people see, so there was no previous expectation on my side on what to expect, but yes, things could have been done with a bit more...sparkle, let's call it.

All in all, this was a good enough story, very entertaining, fluid writing style and many chapters which made it easier to read, graphically speaking. I'd read something else by this author, just to compare.
Grade: 7/10

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