Camilla Lackberg was one of the early Scandinavian crime writers that I read. Her debut, The Ice Princess, is, in my opinion, an excellent novel. As the series developed, however, I stopped reading the books. The focus on the domestic life of the protagonist alongside the crime story wasn’t particularly to my taste. However, I had been tipped off by a Twitter friend that Lackberg had returned to form with her latest novel, Buried Angels. And he was right.
In 1974 a family in Fjällbacka, Sweden disappeared leaving only the baby daughter, Ebba alone in the house. The case has remained a mystery unforgotten by the local community. The adult Ebba returns to the property with her husband to renovate the house and mourn the loss of their child. However, their house is subject of an arson attack within days of their arrival. Detective Patrick Hedstrom is assigned to the investigation but has to contend with his wife Erica’s fascination with the tale of the family’s disappearance.
There is something compelling about the missing. A disappearance can leave confusion and loss for generations and Buried Angels mines the sense of mystery relating to the family’s vanishing. There was an overlap in a couple of the characters’ story which made parts of the narrative a little claustrophobic. Two of them have lost children, for example. However, the domesticity that had become slightly irritating seemed in proportion to a narrative that focuses on family and their dysfunctional relationships. In many ways the book is an update on the traditional mystery. There’s a confined area, a strong cast of suspects and a big reveal at the end.
The book’s strength is in the mystery that is pulled out until the last chapter or so. The writing, as usual, is clear and sharp and I managed to warm to Erica as a character once more. Lackberg is definitely back on form.
Thanks to Harper Collins for my review copy. The translation was by Tiina Nunally.
Barry Forshaw is the UK’s expert on Scandinavian crime fiction. His excellent Death in a Cold Climate is a book that I often dip into if I need information about a Scandinavian author that I’m unfamiliar with. Now he has produced Nordic Noir: The Pocket Essential Guide to Scandinavian Crime Fiction, Film & TV, a brief but very entertaining overview of not only Nordic crime novels but also of many of the Scandinavian TV and films that are now appearing on our screens.
The book opens with a look at the beginnings of Scandinavian crime fiction, and the influence of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö and other early writers on the genre. The following chapters then assess the two great writers Henning Mankell and Steig Larsson and how they led the way for many of their contemporaries and began the craze for Nordic Noir. There is plenty of food for thought here. Camilla Lackberg, for example, has a significant following but has never quite reached the popularity of say, Jo Nesbo. Forshaw comes up with some convincing explanations for this, not least the intimate setting of Fjallbacka which, although harks back to Christie’s St Mary’s Mead, doesn’t have the international feel of Nesbo’s books. Nesbo himself dominates the Norway chapter, although there are also plenty of other writers discussed, including the excellent Anne Holt and Thomas Enger.
The chapters on the other Nordic countries Iceland, Finland and Denmark were particularly interesting as I’m less familiar with some of the writers and you get a strong sense of both the personality of the authors and the essence of their works. The latter part of the book assesses the impact of Nordic Noir in TV and Film and identifies some emerging writers to look out for which will provide a useful point of reference in the future.
For a short book (around 160 pages) this packs a lot in and shows Forshaw’s knowledge of the subject. His interviews with many of the authors form the basis of the book and there are some amusing anecdotes and asides, including an interview with Henning Mankell who spots mice in an upmarket hotel in central London. But you also get a sense of the author’s preferences and his views on the merits of different writers. So there is plenty to delight fans of Nordic Noir and also those who want an informative but succinct introduction to the genre.