And so, with (almost) impeccable timing, if I say so myself, we hit my 100th book review on (almost) my first anniversary. And to celebrate, I thought it was time to try something new – Scandinavian Crime Fiction.
Camilla Lackberg writes about the town of Fjallbacka, featuring the two leads (at least in this book) of writer Erica Falka and detective Patrik Hedstrom. When Erica’s childhood friend Alex is found dead in her bath, it seems to be a suicide. Erica decides to start researching a book about her friend. But when it becomes clear that she was murdered, Erica starts finding links between Alex and a number of people in her hometown. Balancing her personal interest in the case, her own family problems and her new relationship with Hedstrom, she soon starts to realise that some very dark secrets lie at the heart of the community. This is the first in at least nine books, of which five have been translated into English for monolinguals like me.
You might remember a post from a while ago where I bemoaned the fact that bookshops were only stocking Scandinavian crime fiction and CJ Sansom. I have always assumed, based on a couple of attempts to read Mankell a number of years ago, that the genre held no appeal for me. So, has my gross over-generalisation proved to be correct?
Let’s start off with the why. I have to thank Alison at work for this as I would almost certainly not picked this up myself. Knowing of my interest in crime fiction, she offered me the first four books in the series. As I’m a polite sort, I took the first one, leaving the others at work, promising to read it over the Christmas break. Slightly to my surprise, I did. Even more to my surprise…
… I really enjoyed this book. Some of the themes are very dark, as my cliched pre-conceptions expected. But there is real warmth to the heart of the book, namely the relationship between Erica and Hedstrom. The plot is fairly twisty and the closest thing that it resembled, to my eye at least, was an Agatha Christie story. Long-buried secrets linking the characters and a surprising killer, and a nice double-bluff in the build-up to the reveal. I wasn’t sure what to expect, in terms of structure, but I was very pleasantly surprised to find a proper mystery here.
There are intriguing bits and pieces that tease the future plot developments. There’s also a framing sequence introducing each chapter that seems to be a confession – but who is it from? It becomes clearer as the book progresses, but there’s a twist waiting here as well. It reminded me of the “confession” from Nev Fountain’s Cursed Among Sequels – an entirely different resolution, mind you.
Yes, there are things I could quibble about – the crucial clue is one of those off-hand comments that you’re more than likely to miss, although I think the murderer is guessable – not by me though. The first chapter is a bit rushed, as if the author wanted to set the scene asap, but that impression could come from the translator finding his feet with the tone – the translation is very good, by the way. There are a couple of odd ideas – would the favourite literary character of someone who writes biographies of famous Swedish writers really be Bridget Jones? And are Swedish people really concerned about catching urinary tract infections from park benches? – but these are minor quibbles. If, like me, you’re one of those people who have skipped the Scandinavian writers, expecting non-stop doom and gloom – may I suggest you reconsider Ms Lackberg. When I get back to work, I’ll certainly be picking up the next three in the series. Much to my surprise, highly recommended.