Setting: The resort town of Fjallbacka, Sweden. (Yes, Scandinavian crime is absolutely, most definitely, in just now.)
Story: A young girl is found drowned by a local fisherman, but it was no accident. Detective Patrik Hedström, a recent recruit to the ranks of fatherhood, and whose partner is a friend of the grieving mother, must investigate.
The Good Stuff: The Stonecutter’s story is told in alternating flashback chapters. Slowly, the relevance becomes clear and the background merges with the present in a collision of dreadful evil. The plot – the investigation, and the gradual disclosure of what has been going on – is crafted with care. There are twists and turns and surprises, all the way to the end.
More Good Stuff: Lackberg’s characters are three dimensional, believable, and interesting. For example, Patrik Hedstrom’s partner, Erica, is going through post natal depression. This is not a throwaway scenario, but one which is fully realized (including the challenges Patrik faces in this situation) and adds depth to their home environment. This is a powerful benchmark when compared to the other homes and families Patrik has to trample over in the course of his investigation: people he knows who are all part of a small community. And it’s a situation that Lackberg seems to know well, because she takes similar care with all the main, and many minor characters. Indeed, the book is full of interesting characters and the author takes the opportunity of describing the various interactions to paint a vivid picture of their world and build up the atmosphere surrounding the terrible events. (Spoiler: There is more than one crime.) It’s worth stressing that the prominence given to the characters means that some readers will be disappointed by the lack of action. I was sufficiently intrigued by the characters that I did not mind the slow nature of developments. Further, after finishing the book I went back to reread some bits, and discovered lovely touches that went way over my head first time around. So, this book has depth and quality, but don’t expect high speed cop chases or shootouts.
And: At the heart of this book is something of almost pure evil. The author’s skill is to show the framework by which this evil was created, without sensationalizing, or over dramatizing events. Banal domesticity becomes a breeding ground for badness, and with a couple of poor (and that’s being kind) parenting choices, evil takes hold. In short, the baddie is a monster whose creation we are allowed to witness. (Spoiler: From this story, it appears Lackberg takes the side of nurture in the nurture v nature debate.)
Translation: I wanted to highlight the wonderful job Steven T. Murray did, of translating the book. The text flows naturally in English and lacks any rough edges. It’s a difficult job to do this, but Murray deserves plaudits for ensuring a quality story in one language comes across the same way in another language.
Not So Good Stuff: Very little. I was slightly irritated by an episode involving a policeman making a (characteristically for him) stupid decision as it did not seem to fit; it was like having 101 pieces for a 100 piece jigsaw. However, it’s probably a necessary hook for Lackberg to introduce a new character – this is a series, after all – and if the author’s strategic vision is as good as her tactical performance, it’s easily excused.