A Swedish ghost town haunts a young filmmaker in frightening, fun debut novel

“The Lost Village”

Camilla Sten, translated from the Swedish by Alexandra Fleming

Minotaur (352 pages, $26.99)

Ghost stories and horror — especially psychological horror — have roots in the mystery/thriller genre. Each of these storytelling forms delve, in some way, into inexplicable goings-on and who is behind these eerie events.

Camilla Sten’s often scary, highly entertaining debut “The Lost Village” delivers a robust plot that pays homage to Shirley Jackson’s venerable “The Lottery” and her tense “The Haunting of Hill House” as well as Joan Lindsay’s “Picnic at Hanging Rock,” Tim Krabbe’s “The Vanishing” and just about any work by Edgar Allan Poe or H.P. Lovecraft.

Sten keeps the terror high while evoking a realistic story with believable twists. Young documentary filmmaker Alice Lindstedt has always been fascinated with the history of Silvertjarn, an isolated Swedish mining village where its 900 residents vanished without a trace in 1958. The sole survivor was a days-old baby abandoned in the nurse’s office. The body of a woman who was stoned to death remained in the town square.

Although always small, Silvertjarn had once been a tight-knit community with the majority of the men working in the mine. But the mine closed, forcing many families to move away; those who stayed often lacked transportation or options to leave.

Alice’s grandmother was one of those who left and the filmmaker grew up hearing stories about Silvertjarn, and speculation of what may have happened. Alice hopes the film she and her small crew get in Silvertjarn will inspire donors to support her plans for a six-part documentary.

The village — where “the silence hangs compact” — is a true ghost town, not even a bird can be heard. The filming goes wrong from the beginning. Equipment fails or is lost. The inexperienced crew — at least one other has a family connection to Silvertjarn — suffer from injuries and fraying allegiances.

Believable, outright frights bolster “The Lost Village.” Flashbacks to the 1958 events alternate with the trials of Alice and her team — both of which show a fraying community — heighten the chilling plot. The finale is a stunning look at cruelty.

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Tribune Wire

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