Posted: April 30, 2012 in Historical, Norway, review, Scandinavia, Sweden

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. 

  1. Norman – Thanks for this candid, thoughtful and well-written review. There really is an interesting juxtaposition of topics in this novel, and you raise a good question about the way Läckberg’s cops are portrayed. I’m enjoyed what I’ve read of this series thus far (‘though I confess I’ve not yet read this one), and as you say, they are certainly extremely popular. I suppose in the end it really depends on what one hopes to get from a given novel, or maybe why one chooses to read it.

  2. This is one author I’ve not managed to keep up with but it’s interesting to see the various ‘takes’ on how her novels are doing these days. I think I might find the domesticity on the funny side.

  3. Maxine says:

    Very pertinent review, Norman. I agree that her depiction of domestic issues is sharper and more realistic than her depiction of police work – and indeed of her historical depiction, her attempt at period writing was rather childish in The Stonecutter, I thought. Nevertheless, having been in the situations she describes, eg I do recall my relief at returning to work when my first baby was 11 weeks old to the extent that I could go to the loo and have a cup of coffee! It really is very hard indeed looking after a young baby on your own (husband away or out at work etc) and most books totally underestimate this, as they do postnatal depression – not on the radar- and very well handled in one of Lackberg’s earlier books.
    I agree they are “comfort reads” even though she deals with tough issues. The series has gone in a softer direction since the quite hard-hitting debut, The Ice Princess. I still like reading them,though!

  4. Philip says:

    I think the Swedish title translates directly as The German Youth…

  5. westwoodrich says:

    I found the previous title, The Stranger, to be very readable, but would agree the domestic scenes were stronger than the crime story. I’m planning to read this one (which is foreshadowed at the end of The Stranger) because I thought that if the plot arose from the family rather than being a separate stream in the narrative, it would make for a more effective story. Thanks for this review.

  6. Norman Price says:

    Thanks Margot, Rhian and Maxine for your comments. I think in The Hidden Child Camilla Lackberg almost parodies her own writing style with the child birth, and nappies contrasting so sharply with the investigation.
    I do understand mothers wanting to return to “work” for a rest after looking after a baby. The responsibility is exhausting and I don’t know how Mrs Crimescraps coped with a very precocious 20 month old and a new baby with special needs. But then she is still my super woman. 😉

    Thanks Philip, The German Youth is even more of a clue to the plot.

  7. kathy d. says:

    Funny, but I can’t get into this author’s books. I tried reading The Ice Princess but gave up after I found it a bit boring and uneventful. I didn’t find the sentences interesting, just like me reciting what I did today. And simplistic sentence structure.
    But these are subjective views and taste, and, as we know, everyone’s taste in reading differs.

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