The Couples Trip

Rough relationships in the wilderness.

Jul 2, 2024
Dimitris Passas

Ulf Kvensler's name is well-known among fans of Swedish TV dramas as he has signed the screenplay of several successful productions such as The Restaurant, Black Lake, and the more recent Riding in Darkness. Throughout his career as a screenwriter, Kvensler has showcased his aptitude for writing character-oriented stories often set on stranded locations with the down-to-earth dialogue allowing room for the protagonists to breathe and develop in a natural, plausible manner. The Couples Trip is the Swedish author's debut as a crime writer and even though his novel is not immune to the hackneyed tropes of the genre, it eventually stands out due to its quality of writing as it becomes evident in the terse and succinct descriptions and the intrigue generated by the multi-layered interactions between the four protagonists. A survival thriller and a character study in equal measure, The Couples Trip conveys its qualities and merits gradually, a book destined for those who are patient enough to give it a fair chance and keep reading even when the pacing feels slow. Henrik and Anna a young couple living in Stockholm are ready for their customary annual hiking trip to the northernmost parts of the country which had been postponed for valid reasons. As it happens every year, the couple's friend Milena is trudging along with them though this time she is accompanied by her new boyfriend, Jacob. Henrik is reluctant to accept a stranger in their group however Anna finally convinces him. However, their climbing trip to Mount Sarek in Norrland, the second highest in Sweden (2089 meters) and highest in the Laponian area, will quickly dissolve into a fight for survival where the enemy is not only the unwelcoming, ominous wilderness of Sarek but also the members of the group themselves. As the plot moves forward, we watch as intimate relationships dissolve and each character becomes a potential threat to the others. Kvensler is well-acquainted with certain narrative techniques and his popping back and forth between the past and present is handled deftly and effectively. The main story unfolds in the past while in the present timeline, we read as Anna gets interrogated by the police for reasons which are revealed as the story ploughs on. There are twists and surprises as well as several red herrings blindsiding the reader in critical parts of the novel. The setting is a character per se, always looming in the background and making the protagonists' lives increasingly miserable. In a quick foreword note, Kvensler states that some of the routes mentioned in the book are fictional, however, the author is more than familiar with the milieu as he has been having hiking trips for the past 20 years. His immense experience proves to be a catalyst and there are times when the reader can literally feel the cold and hostility emanated by the surroundings. The ending is decent and while it doesn't score any points when it comes to innovation, it leaves the reader feeling gratified and willing to read Kvensler's sophomore novel The Fireman (original title: Brandmannen) which was released in Sweden in 2023. I really hope that an English translation will become available within 2024 or early 2025 as Kvensler's first attempt at writing a thriller can be safely deemed as a personal victory for a man who has been exclusively writing television screenplays for the last three decades. The Couples Trip is a solid choice for fans of Nordic crime fiction and it will prompt you to sit and watch some of the author's TV shows as well. All in all, an entertaining read.

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