First published in Swedish back in September of 2014 under the title ‘Himmelstrand’, Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel ‘I Am Behind You’ was later published in English in September of 2017 and formed the first part in the ‘first, second and last place’ psychological horror trilogy.

DLS Synopsis:
It was early in the morning when six-year-old Molly Sundberg woke her mother needing the toilet.  They were holidaying at a campsite in Saludden.  A chance for Peter Sundberg to relive memories he held dear of caravanning as a child.  Although Isabelle was far from happy about the prospect.  She hated the whole concept of caravanning.  Slumming it for no apparent reason.  Cramped up in a small metal caravan; your neighbours all within cursing distance.  This was not a holiday as far as Isabelle was concerned.  Her husband was a lunatic if he thought this was what their family needed to reconnect.  If he thought this would bring them together.  Save their marriage.

But when they step out of the caravan door they’re met with a truly baffling sight.  What was once a busy campsite, with its numerous caravans, playparks and the various amenities such campsites are required to offer, all just a matter of a few short steps away, has seemingly now gone.  Instead the Sundberg family are greeted with nothing but an endless expanse of perfectly cut grassy fields.

The Sundberg’s are not alone in this strange new location.  Bunched together in a small circle are four caravans along with the four accompanying cars.  Beyond the circle of caravans lies only grass.  A vast expanse of grass stretching as far as the eye can see in all directions.  Grass that has the appearance of a well-tended garden or golf course.

Above them is a clear blue summer sky.  But there is no sun.  No burning bright orb hanging in the sky.  Just the same dazzling blue illuminated by some internal unlocatable light.

The inhabitants from all four caravans soon emerge into this bizarre new locale.  Four groups of people.  Four very different families.  All having their own reasons for being at the campsite.  All as shocked as the next with what they have woken to.

Exploring outwards from their caravans, the group find nothing but endless expanses of the same perfectly cut grass.  They have no mobile phone signal.  The GPS shows they’re still in Sweden, but reveals a potentially more worrying side.  What they see around them, the endless fields if grass and perfectly blue sky, is not what their SatNavs show.

Something truly terrifying has happened to these four groups of people.  Where are they?  Who put them there?  How has this happened?  And possibly more importantly – why has it happened?

The families only have each other.  Nothing else.  Each other and their memories.  Their pasts.  Pasts that are now haunting them.

Even though their days never end, time is slowly slipping away from them.  Food and water is low.  With each minute that passes, rescue seems more and more an impossibility.  And over the horizon something is coming their way.  Something dark.  Something that terrifies them.

But before the dark clouds have smothered the sky above them, the grass will run crimson with their pain.  Blood will be spilt…

DLS Review:
Lindqvist’s ‘I Am Behind You’ is a horror novel, through and through.  Any publisher or critic who calls it anything but, such as a ‘psychological thriller’ or ‘quirky sci-fi’ is undoubtedly just pandering to the notion that horror is simply lowbrow fiction without a place on the shelves of original contemporary fiction.  Which we know is untrue.  So let’s call a spade a spade and give the novels that walk the pathway of horror the recognition they deserve.

In essence what we have with this first instalment in the trilogy is a decidedly Stephen King style of sci-fi horror, somewhat akin to ‘Under The Dome’ (2009) crossed with ‘Lost’ (2004 – 2010), which, as the tale progresses to the end of this first instalment, edges towards something akin to King’s ‘Dark Tower’ mythos, but with a far darker and bloodthirsty horror edge to it.

From early on we’re introduced to the small group of characters that take on a pivotal role within the intricate layers of the tale and its overall direction.  First of all there’s the Sundberg’s – a painfully dysfunctional family unit of ‘beautiful people’, with the father a successful football player and mother a shallow and vacuous model, who’s only child is undeniably screwed-up in the head (or worse).

Then there’s the Larsson’s.  Stefan and Carina are a close and loving couple with their son - Emily - being a good, honest, but somewhat quiet you lad.  You’ve also got Donald and Majvor Gustafsson – an aging couple who have spent a lifetime working hard and accepting their lot in life.  Donald’s the sort of spit and sawdust older guy who knows how to bear one hell of a grudge.  We also have the farmers - Lennart and Olaf - whose close relationship together causes an eyebrow or two to rise.   Finally we have Donald’s pet beagle Benny and the farmers’ pet cat Maud – who have their very own tales to tell in the grand scheme of things.

It’s certainly a good collection of purposefully varied characters.  Each bringing their own intricate backstory to the tale which ultimately dictates their individual paths in the unfolding storyline.  Indeed, each character has their own unique tale to tell.  An element from their past that lingers on and gradually infiltrates their current predicament.  Indeed, as the story progresses and the tension between the characters starts mounting, we get to see how this baggage, these fears and memories begin to play a part in the horror to come.

Of course that means we’re subjected to numerous backstories being played out in order to clue us in on what they’re seeing.  Very much like in ‘Lost’ (2004 - 2010) we’re flung back and forth between now and then, showing us the characters’ pasts then putting it into context with what they’re seeing and then their actions in this strange new environment.

Because of this the tale is quintessentially a character driven one.  There’s very little else other than the characters, their stories, and how it all weaves together in this highly volatile new environment.  And that’s very much the first two-thirds of the tale.  Establishing the eerily empty backdrop and getting to know these characters.  And then the horror creeps in.  A dark, horrific and bloodthirsty horror that zeros in on the human element from the get go.

The tale purposefully throws up a hell of a lot more questions than it has answers to.  At times you feel like your traipsing through a foggish quagmire of weirdness and uncertainty.  Connecting the dots is a slow but damn satisfying game of cat and mouse.  It builds effective bridges between you and the characters.  Fleshes them out that much more when you realise what’s behind their actions and what they’re seeing.  Gives you a feeling of understanding and from that, a deeper connection with the tale.

If you’re expecting a light sci-fi thriller laced with mystery then you’re going to be in for a shock.  As I stated at the beginning of this review, there’s a hefty slab of horror planted deep into the thick of this tale.  And as the story progresses, so the horror element grows, broadening its shoulders and taking on a much more dominant role, until we’re battling for breath against the oppressive crush of the darkness that threatens to swallow everything up.

There’s a lot of strangeness, of symbolism and spiritual-cum-psychological elements that bring out the throbbing pulse of the story.  Mix this with a notable infatuation with Swedish pop culture that crops up every handful of pages, along with seeing the story unfold from the dog and cat’s perspective (a nicely-interwoven buffer from the maelstrom of madness that clings to the human characters), and you have a truly multi-layered and varied tale that purposefully keeps the reader guessing.

Whether the characters have been thrown into heaven, hell or purgatory remains unanswered.  Perhaps there’s some other reasoning behind it all.  Something less obvious.  Although the hints towards the possibility that these characters have all died are numerous and less than subtle.

Altogether Lindqvist’s ‘I Am Behind You’ is a tale that will keep you guessing, keep you pulled into the strangeness and emotional turmoil.  It’s a tale that focusses on the human element when it’s thrust into the most unnatural and stressful of situations.  Although the questions that come out of it are many, with most remaining unanswered, there’s nevertheless a great amount of satisfaction to be had from seeing how many of the principal elements converge and begin to make sense.  Although the feeling that this is just the first instalment in a much larger mythos is always there.  The sense that this is just a stepping stone in the larger scheme of things hovers over everything.  But it doesn’t really detract from the delivery.  Which is a difficult thing to pull off.  So kudos to Lindqvist for that.

For a creepy and masterfully tense horror which plays off the human element at every turn of the page, you can’t go far wrong with this.  It’s strange and bursting at the seams with barely solved mystery.  And it swallows you up with its escalating oddness from so early on.

The novel runs for a total of 405 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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