Book review: The Farm by Tom Rob Smith

On the cover of my copy of The Farm is a blurb from Mark Billingham that reads “You will not read a better thriller this year.” I don’t know who Mark Billingham is, but I now know he’s a damned liar. This is the only so-called thriller I’ve read for the entire year, being my attempt to break out of my comfort zone, and I can tell you, there’s nothing remotely thrilling in this. It’s barely interesting and fails as a mystery as well. It’s dreadfully tedious, and the only reason I kept reading was because of morbid curiosity to see when, if ever, the book might pick up the pace and become an actual thriller. That never happened.

Fair warning: I’m going to spoil the ending for this book, so if you plan on reading it anyway, avert thine eyes and scroll or click away before it’s too late.

So, the blurb certainly made this book sound interesting, as did the first fifty pages, in which the main character Daniel is called first by his father, who says his mother is mentally ill and had to be hospitalized. His mother soon calls to say she is not insane and has been released from the hospital. She then flies from Sweden to Britain to lay out her story for her son and explain how she’s come to suspect that everyone in her town is part of a huge conspiracy. What conspiracy? She won’t say until after laying out all her evidence.

All right, so far, not so bad, but shortly thereafter, the story becomes dull and tedious as Tilde lays out a series of supposed slights committed by her neighbor Hakan. (I actually suspected him of far worse because every story I’ve read with a Hakan, that’s usually been the worst character. It’s stereoptyping, I know, like always expecting a Guido to be a mafia hitman.) The problem is, most of these slights are just that. They’re the actions of an asshole, to be sure, but not of a criminal mastermind.

When Tilde winds up her sorely lacking evidence, it’s that much harder to believe her claims, that Hakan is the ringleader to a pedophile sex ring, one that involves the mayor, the local police, and most of the community; and that Hakan murdered his adopted daughter Mia after she outlived her use to him as a child prostitute. It’s just so hard to believe that I began to suspect the ending would be more a rebuttal to all of Tilde’s claims. And this is exactly what happens. Only, it’s not just that Tilde took a few events out of context and constructed a conspiracy. She actively created evidence to frame Hakan for a series of crimes that never happened.

Daniel has his mother hospitalized again, and feeling guilty for this supposed betrayal, he journeys to Sweden to investigate himself and find out what became of Mia. In very short order, he discovers that the real source of his mother’s mental instability is that her father seduced her, got her pregnant, and then made her give up the child before blaming her pregnancy on an innocent farmhand. There’s the real conspiracy, that a local politician sexed up his daughter and then turned everyone against her when he got her pregnant.

So what about Mia? She’s totally fine, having left home with the knowledge of both her parents because of her own unplanned pregnancy with a starving artist. Hakan demanded she get an abortion so he wouldn’t lose face in his community, and when she refused he sent her away and talked the police into not investigating further. There’s no child sex ring; Hakan was a controlling asshole but otherwise not all that abusive. (I still consider some of his actions emotional abuse, but that’s not even remotely close to the crimes Tilde accused him of.) Oh, and Tidle’s father? Gets off without so much as a stern reprimand for his actions. He even smugly suggests that Tilde probably liked being abused.

If I’ve made any of this sound interesting, believe me, it’s not. I had to force myself to finish, and my first word upon completion was “Feh.” What a dull, tedious, and ultimately unsatisfying book. I give The Farm 2 stars, and it will be a long time before I ever attempt reading anything by Tom Rob Smith again.