Archive for April 30, 2012

True crime writer Erica Falck discovers an old Nazi medal, an Iron Cross, among her late mother’s belongings. She takes the medal to Erik Frankel, an elderly retired teacher who had studied the Nazi period. When Erik is discovered murdered, and then a friend of his from the wartime period is also murdered Detective Patrik Hedstrom on paternity leave looking after Maja, his one year old daughter, is allowed by Erica to rejoin the rest of the team dealing with an investigation, whose solution lies in events that occurred sixty years in the past.

I have had a very difficult month and at times I could not read for days, but I don’t think The Hidden Child was responsible for that. I certainly would not want to gave that impression, because part of Camilla Lackberg’s very successful formula is to set the reading standard at easy, and the translation by Tiina Nunnally was as always smooth and unobtrusive. 

The title The Hidden Child gave a massive clue to a plot that was fairly standard Nordic fare. I wonder whether the Swedish title “Tyskungen” can be translated differently. This is a plot that gave Ms Lackberg a chance to give the reader her trademark contrasts between domesticity and danger, and in this case between nappies and Nazis, childbirth and concentration camps, families and fascists. It is a formula that has brought her great success, and I think this novel with a sharp back story, and multiple perspectives is one of her stronger efforts. You have to accept that this police team Patrick, Martin, Gosta, new recruit Paula Morales, and their incredibly lazy station chief Bertil Melberg are not the sharpest pencils in the box. But that is part of the charm of this series, none of these guys are going to be rushed into the Stockholm serious crime squad.

Mixed in with the pregnancies, paternity leave, and a multitude of family problems the book contains some vitriolic material spewed out by neo-Nazis, and reading this novel while the Anders Breivik trial was proceeding was a disconcerting experience.

‘A better society,’ said Peter calmly. ‘The people who have been running this country haven’t made a good job of it.  They’ve allowed ……foreign forces to take up too much. Allowed what is Swedish and pure to be pushed out.’

That is very mild compared with the brief sections of Holocaust denial, and a wife beating by a Swedish Nazi thug when concern is shown by the woman for a Jewish family. But then this is starkly contrasted with the problems of looking after a toddler:

He couldn’t even go to the toilet in peace, since Maja had got into the habit of standing outside and crying, ‘Pappa, Pappa, Pappa, Pappa’ as she banged on the door with her tiny fists until he relented and let her in. Then she’d stand there and stare at him with curiosity as he did what he’d always done before in much greater privacy.

Do the domestic issues raised in this book, the long term results of divorce, Erica’s sister Anna’s difficulties in dealing with her teenage step daughter, Patrick meeting up with his ex-wife , Melberg’s salsa classes with attractive Rita detract from the investigation and the more serious issues raised such as the rise of neo-Nazis in the Nordic countries? I could not argue with the volume of sales Camilla Lackberg achieves with her formula, but I still find her cops naive, soft boiled, and lacking in the basic knowledge necessary to be a police detective, and this means her books fall below the level of the best of Nordic crime fiction.

‘This woman has been suffocated ,’ said the doctor, pointing at Britta’s eyes with one hand as he used the other to lift one of her eyelids. ‘Look-petechiae.’

‘Petechiae?’ Martin repeated uncomprehending.