Book Review: A Nearly Normal Family by M. T. Edvardsson
By Ray PalenJuly 25, 2019
A Nearly Normal Family is a gripping legal thriller that forces the reader to consider: How far would you go to protect the ones you love? In this twisted narrative of love and murder, a horrific crime makes a seemingly normal family question everything they thought they knew about their life—and each other.
What I found most ironic as I was reading M. T. Edvardsson‘s debut novel in the U.S., A Nearly Normal Family, was that the cover featured a blurb from author Scott Turow. I must have subconsciously been aware of that fact because I kept thinking how much this novel reminded me of Turow—particularly his classic Presumed Innocent.
To label this merely a legal thriller does this novel a disservice as it is so much more. This is a family drama of the highest order. Stella, the 17-year-old only child of parents Adam (a pastor) and Ulrika (a criminal defense attorney), find her life and by rote, the lives of her small family completely rocked when she is taken in by police and charged with murder.
Edvardsson cleverly breaks his novel up into parts in which you are treated to sections narrated by all three of the family members. The only trouble with that is you cannot simply put all the different puzzle pieces provided to you together to figure out what actually happened. In the case where one, or more, of the narrators are not being 100% reliable, it becomes nearly impossible to figure out where things will end up. Trust me, it’s nothing to fret over as A Nearly Normal Family is a literary ride well worth taking.
The first section is narrated by THE FATHER, who neatly sums up his situation by pondering: “It takes a long time to build a life, but only an instant for it to crumble.” Adam found religion later in life, and that revelation has completely changed his way of thinking and dealing with the world around him. It also tests his faith to the max with the crisis regarding his daughter Stella. A thirty-something man named Christopher Olsen is found murdered in the night, just outside of a playground in Pilegatan. Police seem to believe that not only was Stella there with him but also had been having a relationship with Olsen.
Stella’s parents are in denial and immediately hire a defense lawyer, Michael Blomberg (a man Ulrika had once had an affair with), to represent Stella. They know of the Olsen family as Christopher’s mother, Margaretha, was herself a professor of criminal law.
All Adam can do is feel guilty that he somehow failed his daughter in some way. His feelings sway between that guilt and anger—an anger that makes him overstep his boundaries in conducting an unlawful investigation into Christopher Olsen’s ex-wife, Linda Lokind, who he believes was more than able to have been the actual murderer in this case. This is an easy conclusion to jump to as Linda herself has labeled her ex-husband as a psychopath.
The next section is entitled THE DAUGHTER, and it is no surprise that when we hear things from Stella’s standpoint that we get a far more clear picture of what happened. It also lets readers decide whether or not you see enough clues to provide the motivation for Stella committing this heinous act. It is during this part of the novel that we learn about Stella’s closest friend, Amina. This now brings in a new player and interesting variable into the murder mystery as it is no surprise that Amina may know more than she is letting on. We also get to experience life behind bars as Stella is being held without bail until her trial is over. Being incarcerated always has a way of changing how a person feels and what lengths they will go to in an effort to be free once again.
Part Three is entitled THE MOTHER. Up to this point, we have heard the least from Ulrika and it is no surprise when she puts a different spin on things in such a way that you will have no idea which directions things will be heading. Ulrika does not have the same sense of guilt as her husband, Adam. What she does share is a strong sense of responsibility that is evidenced in her thought: “To fail to be there for your own child. There is no greater betrayal.” Also, Ulrika’s prior relationship with Blomberg as well as her years as a Criminal Attorney make her a worthy adversary for the prosecution in this case—that much more cranked up by the fact that she is an over-protective mother.
A Nearly Normal Family is a taut and terrific American debut for Swedish author, Edvardsson. He presents what appears on the surface to be a standard murder case and then throws everything into the air by presenting the different complex feelings and viewpoints of the characters involved. I look forward to what he brings us next.