The Gallows Bird, by Camilla Lackberg
This is the fourth book in the Erica Falck - Patrik Hedstrom crime fiction series by Swedish writer Camilla Lackberg (Swedish: Läckberg). As in the other books in the series, the story is set in the idyllic little towns of Fjällbacka and Tanumshede, small places in south-west Sweden. These are places Lackberg knows well – she grew up there. But they are small, and by now Camilla Lackberg must have killed off a very significant proportion of the population in her series. Patrik (police detective) and Erica (writer) met in The Ice Princess, but now they are living together and have a new, cute little baby. They are about to get married.
In The Gallows Bird, Patrik is called to the scene of a car accident where a woman, Marit Kaspersen, is found dead. Seemingly she is the victim of a tragic car crash. Since the car smells of alcohol it is assumed to be case of drunken driving. However, Marit Kaspersen didn’t drink. And it seems she had a lover and that her husband was jealous. And the autopsy reveals bruises around the mouth, signs that liquor has been forced upon the driver. Perhaps the assumed accident is a murder?
Then a spectacle arrives in Tanumshede and creates turmoil in the community: A bunch of people participating in a reality TV-show that is to be filmed there. Many people in the city are delighted with the nationwide publicity, but it isn't so easy for Patrik and colleagues to cope with the fall-out. As cameras shadow the stars' every move, relations with the locals are strained to breaking point. The participants behave outrageously and manage to alienate the locals. When one of the show's participants is found murdered, is gets more complicated for Patrik and his colleagues. Now the little town really attracts the attention of the media, and the investigation receives much too much attention. As the country tunes in, the bodies mount up in Fjällbacka, while Patrik faces his toughest investigation yet under the intense glare of the media spotlights!
Suddenly a piece of evidence reveals that the two seemingly disparate homicides are linked. It also becomes clear that there is a pattern of similar deaths over a period of time and in different parts of the country. Patrick is forced to realize that these cases are closer to home than he thought.
The Gallows Bird is a pleasant and easy read. The characters are well rounded – moody, make mistakes, seem alive - and the side stories about Patrik and Erica, their new child, the marriage, and so on, are interesting to readers who follow the series and add depth to the characters. The mystery is interesting as well, and the plot is relatively unpredictable but not among the best in this otherwise very good series. The Gallows Bird in an interesting, suspenseful and entertaining read that I recommend.
Praise for Camilla Lackberg:
'Lackberg is an expert at mixing scenes of domestic cosiness with blood-curdling horror! a must for white-knuckle junkies' — Guardian
'Lackberg is particularly good at portraying the claustrophobia of a small community in which everyone knows everyone else and the police may well be friends with killers' — The Times
'As with earlier books, there is an adroit manipulation of elements: the unpredictable plotting, the striking evocation of life in this idyllic (but flawed) community and - perhaps most satisfying - the intriguing interaction between Patrick and Erica, both loving and fractious. It's Läckberg's particular skill to have created two of the most fully rounded characters in contemporary crime fiction, with a warmth that cuts through the Nordic chill' — Barry Forshaw, The Independent
The Hidden Child, by Camilla Lackberg
Like many Swedish fathers, Detective Patrik Hedstrom has chosen to take a paternity leave to stay home for awhile with his one year old daughter Maja. His wife, Erica Falck, wants to spend this time writing a new crime book. However, they both have a hard time adjusting to the new situation. Erica has discovered her mother’s wartime diaries in her attic, along with a mysterious Nazi medal and a blood-stained baby shirt. Curious to learn more, she consults a local World War II historian about the medal and begins to read her mother’s diary.
Soon after, the ageing historian is found brutally murdered in his house, where he lives alone with his brother – a man engaged in the worldwide hunt for Nazi war criminals. Why has the historian been killed now, so long after the war? Did he represent a threat to the growing Neo-Nazi movement in Sweden? Did he have knowledge of long-hidden secrets from the war years in Sweden?
Patrik practically jumps at the chance to involve himself in the investigation. And his assistance really is badly needed – in his absence from the Tanumhede police station, his boss Mellberg quickly takes control over the investigation. As readers familiar with this series well know, Mellberg completely lacks the skills and the intuition of a good detective.
The murder case in The Hidden Child clearly seems to have its roots in war time Sweden. Back then, as a teenager, Erica’s mother Elsy was one of a small group of friends which included the murdered man and his brother, as well as a young boy who later became a leading Swedish neo-Nazi, and the beautiful and flirtatious Britta. When Britta, who suffers from Alzheimer’s, is killed, it starts to look as if the murders have something to do with this little group of friends. But why? How could their actions then possibly result in mayhem sixty years later?
Both Patrik and Erica feel strongly that something must have happened that was related to the group or possibly within the group, but what, exactly, eludes them. As they get closer to the hidden mystery, Erica will discover things about her mother that will forever change her life. She has been haunted by a childhood of neglect, and now she will finally uncover the reasons why - and reveal a stunning truth in the process.
The Hidden Child is among the very best novels (so far) in the Fjallbacka series about Patrik Hedstrom and Erica Falck. The narration alternates between the war time – the years from 1943 to 1945 – and the investigation in the present. As Patrik and his colleagues, along with Erica, try to excavate the past, they increasingly get the feeling that critical information is systematically being withheld from them. Several people seem to know more than they are willing to reveal and seem determined to keep old secrets well buried. But who kills so ruthlessly to bury secrets so old?
The Hidden Child is well-written and excellently translated from the Swedish by Tiina Nunally. The sentences are short and the style straightforward, which makes it easy to keep turning the pages. Camilla Läckberg has crafted an intelligent novel which is nicely balanced. The side stories are quite engaging and interesting in their own right, and the mystery is intriguing. The combination of a police procedural with details of family life and relationships is interesting, and the historical twists work very well too. As I read, the felt the suspense build as my curiosity was activated and I started to long more and more for those dark secrets from the past to be revealed. The Hidden Child is very entertaining, and I had a great time reading it.
Praise for Camilla Läckberg:
'Camilla Läckberg is probably the hottest female writer in Sweden at the moment… Lackberg's job is to make the reader pleasurably uncomfortable – one of her ironclad skills' Independent