03 October 2011

Let the Right One In, by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist is creepy horror writing done right. If I end up doing one of those best-of-the-year lists, this would make mine.

And let's get this out of the way first: alcoholism, politics, bullying, and vampires. All this and more are in this story. And yes, vampires. But wait - I don't mean vampires with pretty eyelashes and perfect outfits.

Set in 1981 and taking place over a three week period in Blackeberg, a subdivision of Stockholm, the story weaves in the occasional newspaper article of murder, obscure acts throughout the area, along with a description of  the physical process of turning into a vampire. Using Sweden's vision for planned neighborhoods from the 1950s as a vilified backdrop for the monstrous events and combined with an occasional non-fiction feel, the creepy atmosphere was heightened.

Oskar is a twelve-year-old boy living in these suburbs and is bullied almost every day. He returns each night to a small apartment and to his mother, who loves him, but it's just not enough. He is alone and feels it; the life of the  bullied is a lonely one. To keep himself company, Oskar is a little bit obsessed with serial killers and practices killing his bullies by attacking trees in a forest by the Vällingby neighborhood with a sharp knife. When the brutal murder of a young boy is discovered in these woods, hung upside down and seemingly drained of all blood, Oskar collects the articles of the investigation and looks through the details by himself. Always alone.

But then he meets his next door neighbor, a young girl his age, who shares his interest in puzzles and they seem to click. Building a friendship on Morse code tapped between their bedroom walls, Oskar finally feels he has a friend. Sure, she's a little bit different - after all, what person in Sweden goes outside without a coat in the winter? Who can see in the dark like it's the middle of the daytime? And is that really her father she lives with? But this is a real friend, his first. And it means everything to him.

Fear not, fellow readers. As I mentioned before, this is not just another vampire story with glitter and angst and trivialities overlapping with evil authoritative figures. Deliciously disturbing and frighteningly graphic, it is what horror fiction should be.

Layered into the story are significant secondary characters that are skillfully tied in together. There is the older teenager, Tommy, who doesn't care for his mother's new boyfriend, a police officer investigating the odd murders and attacks in the area. There are the alcoholics who get together as often as they can to drink and commiserate over politics, life, and the like. When one of their own goes missing, it's a tough to believe that a friend saw...a very young child lure him into the woods, never to be seen again.

Normally when characters casually crop up in a storyline as a plot device to move things along, it's annoying. Not so much with this book. In fact, it artfully builds with expert pacing that kept me gripping the book in those last fifty pages.  And although there are multiple characters and story lines, it  isn't confusing; instead, it is masterfully organized and there are no loose ends at all. While graphic and not for the squeamish, Let the Right One In satisfied every urge I had for creepy reading. I highly recommend it and look forward to more horror fiction from this author.

About the Author (from his website)
John Ajvide Lindqvist was born in 1968 in Sweden. After a career as a magician and stand up comedian, he finally became an author of horror stories. His books are published in 29 countries - among them China, USA, United Kingdom, Brazil, Denmark, and of course, Sweden.

Click here
 to visit the author on his website (English version coming soon).

About the Translator
Excellent translation written by Ebba Segerberg. While I can't read it in Swedish, I feel fairly confident that she efficiently communicated the exact level of tension and discomfort that is in the original. Segerberg is an adjunct lecturer at Washington university in St. Louis, Missouri and noted translator. She has translated seven novels, including books by John Ajvide Lindqvist, Henning Mankell, Kjell Westö, and Kjell Eriksson.

This is my fifth selection for Stainless Steel Droppings' hosting of the RIP Challenge VI. You can read more RIP reviews from other participants by clicking here.

FTC Disclosure: This book comes from my own personal library.


  1. I read Interview with the Vampire last spring and what struck me about it was how different it is from this image of vampires we have right now - you know, the glittering ones, or the handsome ones, the sexy ones. I've been waiting for you to post this review up (not that I stalk you via your "reading now" column or anything) because I'd heard so many good things about the movie, but never read much about the book. This sounds like the perfect antidote to Twilight, fantastic review.

  2. I've heard interesting things about the movie, and your review really makes me want to read the book! I'll be adding this to my TBR :]

  3. This is a book that I have been rather curious about and really want to read. I think that although vampires have been a bit overdone, there is still room for stories about them that are well crafted and scary. I am glad to hear that you liked this one, and think that I am going to have to check it out. It seems like it would be something I would really enjoy, and the fact that it deals a lot with a bullied child really gets me right in the gut. Great review today, Natalie!

  4. I'm not all that interested in more vampire crap, but this one was different. Many times, I was sitting there with a horrid look on my face...OMG some of these scenes! And that dude with the acid! But there was also heart-warming themes of belonging and friendship and oh, I did so love this book. Glad you got to experience it!

  5. This is one of my husband's favourite books and he has been nagging me to read it for ages. I've been ignoring him but now it sounds like I should have read it ages ago!

  6. I'm not into vampires, but I'd give this one a try just because you loved it so much.

  7. I saw Sandy's mention of acid, and that was enough to tip me over the edge into run away screaming as fast as I can. Without even having read the book.

  8. ive heard of this and been itching to read it....

  9. I have heard such fantastic things about this one. Not sure why I haven't picked it up yet.

  10. I've heard of this one but now I want to read it!

  11. I'm not into vampire, but I do enjoy vampire read every now and then. I really like the sound of this one, and I haven't heard too much about it. Great review!

  12. Ellen - Interview with the Vampire is one that I always meant to read but never did. I've only seen the movie and heard that the book is, of course, better (when is it not?). And feel free to stalk away on this site :) I stalk your site plenty.

    S. Leighanne - Let me know what you think. I'll be watching the movie soon to scare myself silly.

    Zibilee - Vampires always seem to be overdone, but in the spirit of The Passage by Justin Cronin, there is room for anything that is non-glittery Twilight-esque versions (in my opinion). Let me know if you get a chance to read this one, would love to compare notes.

    Sandy - Ugh, the acid, I know. That freaked me out completely. Loved the book as well; there's something about those Swedish writers! They sure can write a good horror story.

    Sam (Tiny Library) - Definitely pick it up (if not to quiet the husband, right?). :) If you like a freaky good, well written horror story, this might be the right one to read.

  13. bermudaonion - Just make sure when you read it, that it's definitely graphic, and a bit stomach-churning in several scenes.

    softdrink - Too funny. I can also validate that the acid scene is absolutely horrifying and disturbing. Well, in fact, the whole book sort of is horrifying and disturbing.

    erisian23 - Do let me know what you think of it. It will certainly leave an impression for days...

    picky - Read this with the lights on, no question about it. With the door locked and don't invite anyone in.

    Chrisbookarama - It will definitely fit with the RIP Challenge and even though it's a big book, it's actually a pretty quick read.

    Mrs Q Book Addict - This is a different take on the vampire genre, for sure. Let me know what you think if you pick it up.

  14. I'm not one to read vampire novels just because there are vampires, but this one sounds so interesting!

  15. nomadreader - It is interesting, but keep me in mind that it is very graphic, and as I mentioned in another comment above, quite stomach-churning as well. Let me know what you think if you get a chance to read it!

  16. I thought this book was absolutely brilliant and was my best book of the year (in 2009). It's definitely one I will re-read.

  17. Ooooo I do believe I am going to pick this one up! What better reading for the month of October?!?!

  18. Sounds like it is worth checking out. Good review!

  19. I have never heard of this book, and I am now wondering why my friends have not informed me of this before. You had me at vampires, and everything else has me now extremely anxious to get my hands on this book soon. Thanks for a great review!


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