Until very recently, Camilla Läckberg played no part in my world. I didn’t know her from Eve. And, had I been pushed to guess where she’s from based on her name alone, Sweden would have been the last place to come to mind.
Billed as ‘the hottest female writer in Sweden’ by the Independent, regaled by the Guardian as an ‘expert at mixing scenes of domestic cosiness with blood-curdling horror’, endorsed by The Times as ‘a top-class Scandinavian writer’ she certainly comes highly recommended. Curiosity got the better of me.
One of the lovely thing about having friends who read is that nine times out of ten they read authors I’ve never heard of. Over with the lovely BC last week, I had a flip through her bookshelf and came across five of Läckberg’s novels (starting with No. 2 in the series). I decided to see for myself what all the fuss was about.
About a third of the way in to The Preacher I was ready to give up. The translation was doing my head in. The clumsy English was so far from what we’d say in everyday life that I has having a hard time concentrating on the plot and the characters. Three books later, I’ve gotten over it. I’ve learned to ignore the style and focus on the content. So much gets lost in translation and if I was interested enough, I’d learn Swedish.
Läckberg is a fan of alternating the past and present. Each of the books I’ve read so far flips back and forth and this, too, took some getting used to. Her protagonists are a couple. Policeman Patrik Hedstrom, second in command at the local cop shop in Tanumshede near Fjällbacka on the west coast of Sweden, Läckberg’s home town, is a smart lad. His crime-writer wife Erika Falck is quite something. They make a likeable, readable couple. As the novels progress, the pair increasingly get equal billing. Erika’s sister Anna has hooked up with Erika’s ex-boyfriend Dan and when Erika wants rid of Patrik she sends him for walks with his ex-wife. All very progressive. As for Bertril – Patrik’s bumbling idiot of a Chief – even he’s growing on me. One of a novelist’s biggest challenges is making their characters human, making them real. Läckberg has mastered this.
If you read enough crime novels, you can pretty much see where any book is going. Läckberg’s are no exception, though in fairness, it takes longer than usual. What I like most about them, though, is the backdrop: the accounts of everyday life in Sweden, its social problems, its history.
I’ve long since used crime novels in place of guide books, figuring that if a novelist does their work properly, I’ll learn more about a city or town or area from a novel than I would from a dry account of where to go and what to do. And I’d highly recommend Läckberg’s novels for anyone with a yen to visit Sweden.
I’m currently leafing my way through The Hidden Child and am thoroughly enjoying the insights offered into Sweden’s politics during the Second World War. I’d no idea that it was of such help to Norway or need that the anti-immigrant front is as far-reaching as it is. I’d somehow thought Sweden to be beyond that. Couple that with how Patrik (on paternity leave to free up Erika to write her latest book) is coping (as a representative male) with the daily routine of child-minding, and you have a very interesting book on many fronts. If you’ve a mind for mystery, then you could do worse than check the good lady out.