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Mark Smith’s brilliant first novel is an exciting tour de force which explores startling new dimensions of innocence and dread, destruction and redemption, guilt and responsibility through the lives of its two protagonists, Pehr and Jensen. They are middle-aged, intelligent, alienated from the flesh-and-blood world that has broken them. Their profession is killing for hire. Jensen, a soulless and crafty assassin, amuses himself by the intermittent mental torture of his partner Pehr, equally depraved but with power left to perceive his own depravity.
At the request of a rich and malevolent eccentric, the two men have undertaken the murder of two small children: the boy Poor and his sister Iselin. It is early spring; the children, already captives, are in the front seat of the car; their suitcases and stuffed animals are in the trunk; Pehr is driving and playing whimsical games with the children, while in the back seat, Jensen is deliberating the details of the children’s deaths.
As Pehr drives the car toward a tautly awaited climax deep in the Michigan woods, the satanic inner mechanisms of the murderers reveal themselves through Pehr’s dreams, déjà vues, frozen moment and flashbacks. Their perversity and evil and their struggle against it take many forms–ranging from outright terror to a bizarre humor verging on slapstick–which ultimately reflect a fatalistic but compassionate human condition that all of us share by the very fact of our existence.
With its evocative landscapes and atmospheric descriptions, its unique portrayal of the introspective criminal, and its subtle, probing language, TOYLAND alternates between the real and the phantasmagoric–between modern metaphysical thought and folk themes older than Grimm.