Our Far-Flung Correspondents: Review of Camilla Lackberg’s The Hidden Child by Ananth Krishnan

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.

reviews and more

The New York Daily News has some travel advice for those who want to follow the footsteps of Swedish sleuths. If you are truly obsessive, you may even reserve Wallander’s table at his favorite restaurant.

The Australian Courier-Mail has an interview with Asa Larsson and manages to work Stieg Larsson into the title.

Ali Karim, the consummate fan, has an appreciation of Arnaldur Indridason at Shots Magazine, marking his appearance (again) at the Frankfurt Book Fair, where his books originally found their international audience with Jar City.

I reviewed Jussi Adler-Olsen’s The Keeper of Lost Causes (also known as Mercy) for Mystery Scene magazine. (Shortcut: I liked it quite a lot.) For an alternative view, see what Glenn Harper has to say – he feels it’s not a bad book, just a bit flat and lacking in nuance. At Reviewing the Evidence, Yvonne Klein didn’t care for all of the ingredients, but liked the results very much. And Bernadette has some insightful things to say – including the way the role of humor in the book, in spite of some horrific goings-on, sets it apart, as does the way that a tired fem-jep trope is given fresh life by creating a woman who is extraordinarily tough and resourceful.

More recently, Glenn has reviewed Outrage by Arnaldur Indridason, in which Elinborg takes the lead. He writes that she is “fully the equal of other female detectives in Scandinavian fiction.”

While dallying in the north, Glenn also reviews Jorn Lier Horst’s Dregs, which he declares “a first-class police procedural” with an interesting protagonist. Though it’s actually the sixth in the series (and first to be translated into English) he finds the author did a good job of filling the reader in sufficiently to make it a good place to start.

(For more on this author, who is himself a policeman, check out an interview published at Cyprus Wells.)

And Glenn also reviews Stefan Teganfalk’s novel Anger Mode, which he likens to Jussi Adler-Olsen and Leif G.W. Persson. The author’s strength is plotting, but the dialogue, Glenn feels, can be on the wooden side, making the book longer than it needs to be.

Keishon reviews Arnaldur Indridason’s Voices, which she finds sad and realistic – a good review that captures the mood of the book well.

Maxine Clarke reviews Midwinter Sacrifice by Mons Kallentoft for Euro Crime, finding it a good if over-hyped portrait of small town life, its limitations thrown into relief by a murder. She thinks the main character has potential and gives the translator, Neil Smith, high marks, particularly for the sections of the book that are told from the victim’s perspective.

She also points out that if you follow people on Twitter, you might want to follow @SwedishNoir.  Thanks, Maxine!

Margot Kinberg puts Detective Inspector Irene Huss in the spotlight, particularly looking at the way that author Helene Tursten weaves together the personal and professional in this character. (I do like this series, and having a lead character who is so balanced and pleasant to be around is part of it.)

The Independent has reviews of Camilla Lackberg’s The Hidden Child and Asa Larsson’s Until Thy Wrath Be Past. Both involve crimes of Sweden’s past and both are recommended.

In the Irish Times, Declan Burke reviews Liza Marklund’s Exposed, which is apparently the first in the Annika Bengtzon series, summing up: “concise, pacy and direct, eschewing any literary pretensions to language or characterisation in favour of a hard-hitting polemic on the topic of domestic violence, in which the personal is very much the political.”

The Globe and Mail reviews Jo Nesbo’s The Headhunters, mincing no words: “If you thought Scandinavian crime fiction couldn’t get better than Steig Larson and Henning Mankell, you’re wrong.. Norway’s Jo Nesbo is better than either and this book is far and away his finest.”  Paired with this review is one of Karin Fossum’s The Caller, giving her points for psychological suspense and her ability to find ” violence in the everyday,” which I think is Fossum in a nutshell.

At Petrona, Maxine also reviews Headhunters, calling it “a dazzling, relentlessly paced thriller, combining classic noir elements with Nesbø’s trademark intricate plotting that constantly challenges the reader’s wits and attention span. What a refreshing read!”

Mrs. Peabody investigates a couple of Scandinavian television crime dramas coming to BBC in 2012. (Oh dear, another brilliant and maverick profiler mourning the death of his wife and child . . .) More at the BBC site.

Fox is developing Leif G. W. Persson’s series into a television drama series with the director of Syriana and Traffic (the US version) directing. This plus more on Fincher’s Girl, a von Trier adaptation of Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Department Q series, an American Jar City, and a confused reference to who will play the detective in Mankell’s novel Italian Shoes being made into a film – sorry, folks, but it’s not about Wallander; it’s not even crime fiction.  Another article in Word and Film reports that Jo Nesbo’s Headhunters is being made into a film, then speculates about which part of the world will be the next hot destination when we’re tired of Scandinavia.

And while we’re on the subject of reinterpretations, here’s news that DC Comics has acquired the rights to turn the Millennium Trilogy into six graphic novels. I have to say – strange though it may sound – I think this is great. Maybe it’s because I grew up with Classics Comics or maybe because Larsson was such a fan of pop culture himself, but I quite like this idea. I’d rather they be Swedish, and not by a mega-company, but these seem to me books that will work well in graphic format.

Finally, let’s let the New Yorker have the last word . . .

so many books, must make time

Peter, as usual, is ahead of the game and gives us an early glimpse of the fifth book in Camilla Lackberg’s series, The Hidden Child, which takes a look at wartime secrets and makes the pages turn quickly.

He also catches us up with Norwegian author Thomas Enger and his new book, Burned, which he finds fascinating, convoluted, and with a terrific ending.

Ben Martin at the Advocate has some stern things to say about crime fiction that is stooping too low – he’s quite cross about Lars Kepler’s The Hypnotist and Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman.

What made Mankell and Larsson so compelling was the determination by their protagonists to master the evil. Without this moral dimension, such tales are merely horrific. . . .

The Hypnotist, by a Swedish couple writing under the pseudonym Lars Kepler, is a repellent book. Its special nightmare quality is the involvement of children in crimes of murder, kidnapping, rape and mutilation, either as victims or perpetrators. . . .

Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman, inspires similar dread . . . As the chapters proceed, the means of death grow more gruesome, the motives more obscene.

But he praises Hakan Nesser and especially Arne Dahl, whose Misterioso is finally going to be available in English. He says is “truly fine” and the first translation in a series that is a worthy successor to Mankell’s Kurt Wallander series.

Lucky Bernadette has already read Johann Theorin’s The Quarry, which is set on his favorite island, this time in the spring. She writes:

As has been the case with the previous two novels of this series I was once again enveloped by the atmosphere Theroin, ably aided by his translator Marlaine Delargy, has created here. It didn’t feel like I was just reading about the island’s slow awakening from it’s harsh winter to spring: I lived through the lengthening days, the appearance of the first butterflies, the people getting to know each other and themselves. I loved every moment of this book from its first word to its excellent closing line.

As these are seasonal books, and we’ve had three, I’m afraid we have only one more left.

Keishon, the avid mystery reader/blogger, thinks highly of Theorin’s Echoes from the Dead, saying, “I always find myself thoroughly immersed in his stories. To me Johan Theorin is a natural-born storyteller whose novels are often described as “chilling” and “atmospheric.” He has a strong authorial ‘voice.'” She also does her part to combat grade inflation, causing a bit of controversy.

Maxine Clarke reviews Arnaldur Indridason’s Outrage at Euro Crime; this ninth volume in the Erlendur series is much more about his colleague, Elinborg, who investigates a murder the old-fashioned way, teasing out every clue and learning as much as possible about the victim. As Maxine points out, procedurals that avoid technical gee-wizardry are less likely to date themselves. All around, a good mystery, though the who dunnit aspect is less successful than the overall depiction of an investigation and the people involved in it.

Peter Rozovsky reviews a dark and violent crime story – Harald’s Saga, one of those early Icelandic thrillers that (along with Ed McBain) influenced Arnaldur Indridason’s style.

In the Wall Street Journal, Tom Nolan reviews The Hypnotist, finding it (appropriately) mesmerizing and (perhaps less appropriately) grisly. Though, he concludes, when you live in the wild north “sometimes you need an ax.”

Norm reviews Camilla Ceder’s Frozen Moment at Crime Scraps and wonders if mysteries today aren’t indulging in a bit too much backstory. If the review had to be summarized in one syllable, it might be “m’eh.” Meanwhile, update your RSS feeds, as Crime Scraps has finalized its divorce from Blogger.

Elaine Simpson-Long, Opera Lover, also loves Henning Mankell’s elegaic coda for the Kurt Wallander series, The Troubled Man, though she’s sorry it’s the last one.

I find when reading Mankell’s books that the narrative style and flow is very even and balanced, no sharp, short sentences or any breaks.   The reader is gently taken along and after a while it is almost a soothing experience to read this author and this ebb and flow reflects the character of Kurt Wallander himself, it is almost hypnotic . . . A thoughtful quiet read and well worth it.

BBC’s World Book Club offers a lengthy and informative interview with Henning Mankell. Hat tip to Mediations for the link.

The Material Witness reviews Sofi Oksanen’s Purge and gives it high marks for psychological stealth and subtlety. For some reason, I hadn’t realized she’s Finnish, so belongs here (though the setting is Estonia, and there is some dispute over whether this book can properly be called crime fiction).

Barry Forshaw has a lengthy and interesting essay in The Independent  about Norwegian crime writers and their thoughts about the genre, making a brief stop on his way to publishing a book on Scandinavian crime fiction to be titled Death in a Cold Climate. Peter Rozovsky writes about it at his blog with a pun clever enough to cause toothache.

And if you haven’t had your fill of The Girl, Variety has an article about David Fincher’s US remake of the Millennium Trilogy films; all the Swedes interviewed seem to be pleased with it, where apparently Fincher has fans. They are also relieved that it hasn’t been moved from Sweden to a US setting or filmed on location in the nearest Ikea store to Hollywood.

Hang onto your wallets: the tireless sleuth, Karen Meek, has uncovered new publications coming out in August in both the UK and US markets, including some newcomers to English translation: Norwegian Jørn Lier Horst, Swedish Stefan Tegenfalk, and Finnish Monika Fagerholm (who has one other book that has been translated into English previously).