This review is, once again, contributed by guest blogger Ananth Krishnan of India. Thanks, Ananth!
The capability to learn from the mistakes made in one’s life is a critical facet of every human being and one such learning that I made recently was to avoid starting a Camilla Lackberg novel at bed time. You would assume that it is a simple lesson to learn and implement but I for one have been a massive failure at this. On the same hand I have to admit that it is one lesson that I don’t mind ignoring especially when it comes to Ms. Lackberg. Lured back by the serene backgrounds of Fajallbacka and its cozy setting, The Hidden Child is my latest Scandinavian feast and I am glad that the two nights I devoted to this has me convinced that it is the the strongest book in her canon.
A Nazi medal found amongst Erica’s mother’s belongings (and some old diaries) kick things off with her trying to get to the bottom of the mystery that shrouds her mother’s past – Erica is egged on by the one thread of hope that her mother’s past would probably hold an explanation to the estranged kind of relationship that she had always shared with her mother. However things go awry when the retired history teacher who she approaches to seek information about the medal is found dead two days later. When another member of what was the erstwhile inseparable-childhood-foursome is also killed (Erica’s mother and the murdered history teacher being a part of this group), it sets into motion a tumult of events that finally converge into a chilling finale – apparently the events of 60 years back amidst the world war are bearing consequences that affect the lives of those in the present day Fajallbacka. Expertly tying in the past with the ever-looming threat of the neo-Nazi movement getting more momentum in the present, Camilla is able to deliver a plot that is coherent and engaging – an absorbing tale that is intricately woven and grippingly presented.
The honours of the translation this time around belongs to Tiina Nunnally (wife of Steven Murray who translated all of the earlier novels) and I find this a better read. Not that I had any issues with his works but I found this novel sported a tauter prose that literally sucks the reader into its words. By now Camilla is a household name in the world of crime fiction and this novel also features all the staple ingredients. Take for instance – Mellberg, the ever-grumpy police chief and Gosta, the golf aficionado – there are the usual digs present but this time around Gosta seems to be surprise his colleagues with his hidden knowledge and Holmes’ian moments (not to mention the display of his tender side!) while Mellberg is shown to have a very sensitive side that paints him in a much warmer tone – the fact that Camilla has built a strong array of characters gives her the perfect opportunity to embellish them with more details that keeps them interesting and unpredictable. Not to mention the fact that this novel also introduces Paula (Ernst’s replacement at the Tanumshede police station) – a committed and thorough professional who has her own strengths to bring to the table and is another refreshing addition to the myriad set of recurring personas (Paula has her own little secret which I shall not divulge and leave it your pleasure to find out!).
Interestingly enough there is a role reversal in the Hedstrom family – while Erica is out doing a lot of legwork to unravel the enigma of her mother’s past, Patrik is on a four month paternal leave solely in charge of the one year old Maja – this results in some hilarious exchanges between them with Patrik’s inability to resist the temptation to involve himself in the ongoing case thus committing some basic blunders when it comes to taking care of a one year old! I have literally just touched the tip of the iceberg for there are a multitude of other people who keep the plot interesting and the pages turning. The icing on the cake is how the events of the second world war neatly tie into the present day happenings – a good amount of research has gone into the book which serves as a veritable source for understanding the Nordic role during the world war. However my one teeny-weeny gripe is Camilla’s layout with alternating chapters detailing the present and the past – this style is getting a little repetitive and a change in presentation would do nicely.
The Hidden Child is a fascinating book where Camilla Lackberg clearly plays to her strengths that has resulted in the string of consistently successful books she is able to come out with. This book is just additional testimony to the fact that she indeed has the goods to pull of a riveting and engrossing read or in superlative-fiction parlance – a real “page-turner”. All I wish for is the translators and the publishers to get a move on for I just cannot wait to see the next story unfold in this tranquil and quaint Swedish backdrop.