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Friday, 25 May 2012

The Drowning by Camilla Lackberg

I've been a big fan of Camilla Lackberg's work since reading the first installment in the Patrik Hedstrom series. Nevertheless, I have to admit that her last two offerings, 'The Gallows Bird' and 'The Hidden Child', have disappointed slightly. The plots seemed to lack subtlety and the twists were fairly obvious. I am delighted to report, then, that 'The Drowning' is a definite return to form.


The mystery centres around Christian, Fjallbacka's enigmatic and brooding librarian/author. Eagle-eyed readers will remember that we were introduced to Christian in 'The Hidden Child', where Lackberg made it very clear that he had some skeletons in his closet. I remember feeling frustrated at the time that this loose end wasn't tied up at the end of that book and wondering why Lackberg had chosen to dedicate so much page space to this seemingly minor character, so I was happy to realise that his story was to continue. So we pick up the narrative as Christian's debut novel is being published and he is receiving anonymous poison-pen letters. At the same time, detective Hedstrom is investigating the disappearance of one of Christian's best friends. But are the two matters connected?

Much of this book represents business as usual for Camilla Lackberg. Chapters are interspersed with short 'flashbacks' to the past. Bumbling police boss Mellberg provides a source of hilarity as he inadvertently tries to sabotage his colleagues' best efforts to identify a perpetrator. The grizzly action is offset by cosy scenes of Patrik's home life, where Erica is pregnant with twins. And of course a large part of the detective work is carried out courtesy of nosy Erica, who snoops around into other people's business more than ever before while worrying about her lumps and bumps and eating too
many pastries.

I always think of these books as the Erica Falck series rather than the Patrik Hedstrom series, as every time it is her off-the-record snooping that saves the day! To me she is the more interesting character, an oddity amongst a sea of miserable male middle-aged leads in these Scandinavian crime novels (not that I don't love them too!). I once read someone else (apologies if I have stolen your analogy) refer to her as the 'Bridget Jones of Scandinavian crime fiction' which is fairly accurate! The reviewer in question probably did not intend that to be a compliment but I find her quite refreshing.

Lackberg seems to have a keen understanding of human nature and an acute eye for what makes people tick, and this pervades 'The Drowning' as its real strength. Even the most insignificant onlooker is brought to life and the reader is given a real sense of everybody's personality. You get the sense that you can relate to every single character to some degree or see something of them in real-life acquaintances. Unlike in the previous two books, I did not see the solution to the mystery coming AT ALL, it was completely unpredictable but not far-fetched. And just when you think it's all wrapped up another BOMBSHELL is dropped that will ensure you return to Patrik Hedstrom number 7!

I would definitely recommend this book to any fans of crime fiction, but with one caveat; it's definitely better to start from the beginning if you haven't read any others in this series. Unlike other crime fiction series where the majority of the books stand alone and don't have to be read in any particular order, these are far more enjoyable if you get to know the characters from scratch.

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