Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Review: The Hidden Child, Camilla Lackberg

The Hidden Child (Fjällbacka #5)

Camilla Läckberg

Translated from the Swedish by Tiina Nunnally

Harper, 2011 (2007)

Crime writer Erica Falck is shocked to discover a Nazi medal among her late mother's possessions. Haunted by a childhood of neglect, she resolves to dig deep into her family's past and finally uncover the reasons why.

Her enquiries lead her to the home of a retired history teacher. He was among her mother's circle of friends during the Second World War but her questions are met with bizarre and evasive answers. Two days later he meets a violent death. Detective Patrik Hedstrom, Erica's husband, is on paternity leave but soon becomes embroiled in the murder investigation. Who would kill so ruthlessly to bury secrets so old?

Reluctantly Erica must read her mother's wartime diaries. But within the pages is a painful revelation about Erica's past. Could what little knowledge she has be enough to endanger her husband and newborn baby? The dark past is coming to light, and no one will escape the truth of how they came to be...

There's a lot going on in The Hidden Child. On the one hand, it's a standard enough police procedural, following the investigation into the death of prominent local historian, Erik Frankel. Yet at the same time, there is a significant domestic element, focusing on crime writer Erica Falck and her husband Patrik Hedström, who is a policeman on the force investigating the Frankel case. Erica has been on maternity leave for a year with their daughter Maja, and now it's Patrik's turn to take his four months of paternity leave while Erica goes back to writing her new book. Patrik, however, is having more trouble that he thought adjusting to life as primary carer, and is desperate to get back to the police station to help out with the case. All of this causes friction between the couple, even as Erica finds herself being drawn into the case. Because that's another significant aspect of this book - Erica's discovery of her mother's wartime diaries, and the way in which that story ties in to the murder investigation in the present day.

All these strands are dealt with really well, alternating between short chapters that focus on Erica's mother and her friends, and the main thrust of the story, which is finding out who killed Erik Frankel, and what it might have to do with a well-known neo-Nazi organisation in Sweden. The domestic storylines are also interesting, and add an additional angle to the whole thing. Erica and Patrik seem realistic as a married couple - neither doe-eyed nor disillusioned, but trying to navigate their way through parenthood and life in general. Erica's sister, Anna, has a small subplot involving a new stepfamily and the difficulties that brings, and although it wasn't really integral to the plot, it fed into an overarching theme of family, responsibility, and the dangers of parents who don't do right by their children. The crime in The Hidden Child is interesting enough, but it is the exploration of these motivations - and the reverberations right up to the present day - that made this really stand out for me. Parental responsibility, and the consequences of parents who don't stand by their children, or fail to provide for them adequately - particularly emotionally - featured heavily here, and in the end the message is clear: the past matters, and makes us who we are.

Läckberg has written a rich and interesting crime novel that makes the effort to delve into the characters' lives, which makes the whole thing a very enjoyable and compelling read. Alongside the more grisly details, a little bit of warmth was injected through various minor characters - Mellberg's burgeoning relationship with the dog, Ernst, for example - and in fleshing out her characters beyond the usual socially inept cop and faceless station buddies, the author made this one of the best crime novels I've read for a while.

Overall rating: 7.5/10

Book source: Borrowed from the library.

This book counts towards my 2013 Translation Challenge.

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