Camilla Lackberg has been heralded as the queen of Scandinavian crime fiction. Her seven novels featuring Erica Falck and Patrik Hedstrom have all been bestsellers around Europe; the front cover of the editions I’ve read proclaimed “7 MILLION BOOKS SOLD”.
The Preacher is the second book in this series. Twenty years ago, two young women disappeared while on holiday in the peaceful resort of Fjallbacka, the setting of the series. Now, their remains have been discovered in a local beauty spot, along with those of a new victim, sending the town into shock.
Patrik Hedstrom, local police detective, takes charge of the investigation, which tears him away from his heavily pregnant partner, writer Erica. As the identities of the victims are revealed, the investigation revolves around the Hult family, a strange clan already at war internally over old feuds and split into two branches, one respectable and one constantly in trouble with the law. Lackberg brings these characters to life in glorious technicolour. I’m not always a huge fan of the Swedish-to-English translation by Steven T Murray but the occasionally clunky word choice didn’t hamper my immersion in this rural seaside community.
Unlike Mankell’s Wallander series, Lackberg’s Hedstrom novels always keep the villain’s identity a mystery. I really engaged as I investigated alongside Patrik and his colleagues, weighing up each new piece of evidence as it was revealed. In this instance, I guessed the murderer but then changed my mind at the last minute – the twists and turns are really gripping and will certainly hold any reader’s attention.
The Guardian quote splashed across the front of the book reads “Expert at mixing scenes of domestic cosiness with blood-curdling horror”; I wouldn’t necessarily say the horror in The Preacher is blood-curdling but it’s very sinister and insidious. You feel as if any number of characters could be guilty of, or complicit in, a foul crime, involving prolonged torture and abuse. There is certainly a sense of threat pervading what should be cosy, homely scenes.
In her previous book, The Ice Princess, the contrast between crime and cosiness is more pronounced – we experience it as a dichotomy as Lackberg presents us first with a murder, then with the growing romance between Erica and Patrik. In The Preacher, however, Erica and Patrik seem to have little in the way of domestic bliss – Erica is fed up of pregnancy, especially in the heat of high summer, she has been advised by her doctor to stop working and she is then plagued by a series of bizarrely inconsiderate house guests. Her troubled sister, Anna, also puts in an appearance, just to add to her woes. I was really puzzled by this marginalisation of the main character of the previous book. Despite Patrik being the police detective, it’s actually Erica who does a lot of the legwork and puts together the pieces to solve the murder of her friend Alex, the eponymous The Ice Princess. As a result, I found that book a more enjoyable read over all. The Preacher, while a great thriller, definitely loses out in the comparison.
Despite this, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend The Preacher, or its predecessor, to those who enjoy crime thrillers with a little more depth.