Wow. This is a gripping Nordic noir in Camilla Lackberg’s series that, in part, charts the arc of married couple Erica Falck and Patrik Hedstrom — she’s a true-crime writer, he’s a detective — on another grisly adventure. This one begins with a traumatized young girl wandering blindly in the snow observed by a horsewoman: we won’t truly understand the significance of this scene or the depths of its evil until the very last page.
Sweden’s Lackberg works on a big canvas — there are many, many interconnected characters in these books. That can be a curse or a blessing — like a Russian novel you have to keep track of who’s who. The best way I find to do that is to take my smartphone and charge it on the opposite side of the house and just let myself go.
Lackberg’s plotting is on a plane with, is it too much to say, Agatha Christie? At the very least her plots have that level of complication and awareness that even old apparently harmless ladies have a knowledge of the world that should never be underestimated. Besides its insane page-turner quality that kept me up on succeeding nights well after a reasonable bedtime, there are so many fascinating domestic themes. Erica and Patrik and their extended families are constantly trying to achieve a work-life balance with the help-hindrances of parents and in-laws. As a married couple, they are also trying to keep a balance of passion, compassion and mutual respect in a world awash in evil (and, yes, that is no exaggeration).
One theme that fascinates me in this particular novel is reflections over and over again on the subject of mothering: what makes a good mother, what limits maternal feeling, the extent a mother will go to protect a dangerous and even deranged child. In one very quiet scene toward the book’s climax, a daughter finally asks her mother the question that the teen must have asked herself a thousand times a day: mama, why don’t you love me? It is a raw question and cuts deeply. Sitting there, in my nightgown, racing toward the end and the many final revelations that keep spinning the story in surprising directions, I paused and wondered what is that question I have for my mother — and would I ever be brave enough to ask it.
And all this while corpses pile up and cold cases thaw. Lackberg is top-shelf Nordic Noir, and if you’ve done the Steig Larsson, Jo Nesbo, Anne Holt, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir circuit, Camilla Läckberg is a must-read.