What I know about Scandinavian thrillers could be written on the back of a Sverige postage stamp so when HarperCollins asked if they could send me this book by Camilla Lackberg, I did not know what to expect as my main knowledge of crime in this setting comes from the recent TV series Wallander starring Ken Branagh, which left me feeling fairly depressed. All full of angst and woe and not designed to lift the spirits one felt.
So when The Preacher arrived I had no idea what it would be like. However, what cheered me up straightaway was that we have a detective, one Patrik Hedstrom, who is not a maverick, is not divorced, is not depressed and actually seems to have a stable relationship with his girlfriend Erica who is expecting their first baby. Thank goodness for that says I. The story is set in the small fishing town of Fjallbacka (by the way you will have to forgive the absence of umlauts, have not yet worked out how to put them in on typepad, no doubt somebody will tell me) which is peaceful and quiet and not much in the way of crime, except for the unsolved disappearance of two teenage girls some twenty years ago.
And then one morning a small boy, out where he shouldn't be, stumbles across the naked body of a murdered teenager. When the crime squad arrive and examine and then move the body, they also find two skeletons who are later identified as the two missing girls who have died in a particularly sadistic and nasty way, as has the recent murdered girl. So, do we have the return of the original killer or a copy cat murder? Patrik is put in charge of the investigation and off we go.
There are the usual motley colleciton of characters in the local police force. Some are familiar types, some are not. The vain police chief, more interested in taking the glory of any results while others do the work is a character we all know well (Donna Leon, Wynfield etc) and he pops up here. Martin, a keen eager young member of the investigation, who assists Patrik and is a total contrast to the two other members of the force we meet, Ernst a belligerent and aggressive policeman who is always keen to slap a parking ticket on anybody he can find, who charges in without a second thought of what he is doing or how his actions affect everyone else, and Gosta, an older disillusioned cop whose main aim in life is to get through the day doing as little as possible. As I said, a disparate collection and well known to regular crime detection readers.
Slap bang in the middle of this is a feuding family who have links to the previous murders though this was never proved, and the police investigation hones in on them. The reader has to concentrate very closely when reading this book, not only because the Swedish names can be confusing so you tend to muddle who is brother or father to who, but because the past, which is referred to many times, is inextricably linked to the current murders. The grandfather of the family, The Preacher of the title may be dead and long gone but his influence on the present situation is clear. Feuding brothers, estranged cousins all added to the mix and when the solution to the murders is revealed, it is intricate and takes you by surprise. Camilla Lackberg leads us to a suspect, one who had crossed my mind earlier on, and then comes out with a fact that makes this impossible. There is then another twist before the denouement when I let out a cry of 'Oh, of course!' and cursed myself for not spotting the clues which the author, with scrupulous fairness had placed in the narrative on at least three occasions and which had been blithely ignored by me. Once you know the answer and work backwards, then you wonder why you missed it, but I did.
I very much enjoyed this book. I found the setting in this small community of Fjallbacka satisfying and the darkness of the murders a contrast to the beauty of the town (see above - I gather Ingrid Bergmann used to have a house here), and the panic and worry that Patrik feels when he is bogged down and despairs of solving the problem, is balanced out nicely against his home life with a heavily pregnant Erica having to deal with ghastly relatives and friends who come to stay and impose themselves upon her.
"There was one big drawback to having a house in Fjallbcka in the summertime. All sorts of relatives and friends, who hadn't uttered a peep during the colder months of the year, would pop up out of the blue. They weren't particularly interested in seeing her in November, but in July they saw the chance to live rent free with an ocean view"
Having never heard of Camilla Lackberg and no knowledge of her at all and, as I mentioned at the beginning of the post, not knowing what to expect, I was pleasantly surprised by this tightly plotted, well thought out thriller. Once started I kept returning to it until I found the solution and now that I have discovered this writer will keep an eye out for her in the future. I see she has written one prior to this and must get hold of that one now. Always good to discover a new crime author.
One small comment. I know that the book is in translation well, obviously, but I really think it very unlikely that Patrik would address Erica as 'dear' or 'my dear'. This is rather an old fashioned expression for a young man like him to use, 'darling' or perhaps 'sweetheart' might be better, but this is very much a minor point in an otherwise enjoyable read.