Well, the competition for female Scandinavian crime authors writing of dark places of both the mind and geography, but with some added and well-placed humour just heated up. Yrsa Sigurðardóttir remains in the lead for me, but having read The Preacher, Camilla Läckberg is certainly hot on her tails. Women will love this one – and men prepared to laugh at their own sex – where men are portrayed in all their dignified and undignified glory. And it seems that Swedish men are very similar to British men; take the summer BBQ for example:
“…As usual, the males gathered round the barbecue, feeling like he-men while the women sat and talked. Erica had never understood the thing about men and barbecuing. Men who would normally claim to have no idea how to cook a piece of meat in a frying pan regarded themselves as complete virtuosos when it came to getting the meat exactly right on an outdoor grill. Women might be entrusted to provide the side dishes, and they also functioned as excellent beer-fetchers.”
Ms Läckberg had me chuckling on many an occasion and it has to be said that there are certainly very dark elements in this rather clever crime novel, which kept me guessing until the end.
Läckberg’s other main depiction-of-character-skill lies with children, and the novel opens with a wonderful passage describing a naughty six year old boy getting up early to play at the King’s Cleft, a forbidden location because of its seclusion. Unfortunately, he never gets to play as he quickly discovers the corpse of a naked woman and when he works out that the woman is dead he runs home, no longer fearful of a scolding. When the cops and forensics arrive, two skeletons are then discovered underneath the woman’s body.
Patrik Hedström, who is soon to become a first time father with his heavily-pregnant partner Erica, leads the investigation. Enquiries always seem to lead him back to the Hult family – a family with a controversial past – and a family torn into two by its history. One side is God-fearing, upstanding and wealthy, whereas the other is well-known to the police, having descended into poverty and crime. In another deft touch from Läckberg: her potentially unsympathetic characters are well-rounded with no hint of melodrama; what made them what they are today is slowly uncovered during the novel, along with what makes them develop.
The investigation gains pace when a teenage girl goes missing and another suffers an attempted rape. With the missing girl, the officers are competing against the clock as they know the horrendous fate of the dead from the forensic team…
Set in and around Fjällbacka, an idyllic Swedish fishing community and resort for tourists in the summer, the season in which this novel is set, community politics also makes itself known and pressure is applied. In a fantastically comic scene, we also experience the outcome of one man’s search for love and to say more would be telling too much. There are quite a few scenes of domesticity regarding Patrik and Erica, some of which I originally thought could have been cut or merged, but they serve a longer term purpose: insight into the families of both, for what is a series, and thus enriches the piece and promotes the longevity. Patrik faces difficulty from those with more years’ service as he heads the investigation; and the decision to make him the lead seems obvious as “The Keystone Cops” come to mind when the oldies make their presence (or lack of) felt.
Coming in at 419 pages, The Preacher is not a fast read, but it’s one of richness and depth, and it begs your time and devotion, easily given up. Layers are abundant in both plot and characters; forget the cinnamon buns they love to eat here, this is a mille-feuille on both counts. I loved Läckberg’s ability to get under the skin of all her characters and to create an intriguing plot that traversed nearly 30 years. And, in a plot involving such heinous crimes, I also appreciated the way she made me laugh along the way. The whole felt like realism to the core. Don’t miss this one.
Now, I have the previous The Ice Princess to read and more to come from this author. I look forward to both.
More on the author at her site here. “One to watch”, as they say; and I’m saying it now for Läckberg.