The Drowning by Camilla Lackberg
Camilla Lackberg’s latest crime novel, The Drowning, reads like a check list of the most desirable qualities for a thriller: Intrigue: check. Sinister pasts: check. Dark secrets: check. Emotive landscapes: check. Engaging lead characters: check, check, check.
Her sixth book once again revisits the lonely coastal village of Fjällbacka, a place that must be twinned with England’s fiction county Midsomer (of the Midsomer Murders fame), if their murder quotas are anything to go by. This tiny place has a sparse population and a plethora of dark secrets, which Lackberg uses to expertly blend the claustrophobia of small-village life with the inescapable elements of frozen Scandinavia. The result is a tense, dark and beautifully woven tale of guilt and revenge with a clear warning: the past will always come back to haunt you.
The Drowning opens with a brutal murder, a missing man: Magnus Kjellner, and the debut of a mysterious new novel called The Mermaid by Magnus’ friend Christian Thydell. Lackberg’s plot follows the now familiar detective, Patrick Hedström, who is investigating Magnus’ disappearance, and his heavily pregnant wife Erica Falck, a fellow novelist who discovers that Christian is the recipient of some disturbing and anonymous threat letters. When a body is discovered frozen under the ice and the extent of the threats made towards Christian grow more serious, Patrick is forced to dig deeper into a past that Christian and his friends are determined to keep buried.
The atmospheric chapters are spliced with the hazy recollections of an unknown child and his troubled childhood with his cruel and obsessive mother figure, leaving the reader haunted by an unspoken but menacing presence that pervades the book.
The only thing that slows the pace is the sometimes, intrusive domesticity that crowds the book. The time spent dwelling on Erica’s pregnancy and the female character’s inability to get through a chapter without talking about eating buns, or baking buns, or drinking coffee, or making coffee becomes a little dull. While these moments help separate the drama with the everyday, the emphasis placed upon these often, mundane practices does, at times, become overbearing.
Nothing much is obvious in Lackberg’s tale; everything is held back until the final pages, leaving the tension and the rich, well-drawn characters to speak for themselves. This is refreshingly apparent as each character has a voice and perspective in the novel and we, as readers, are given unprecedented access to all of their thought processes and fears, as opposed to observing them though a single lead character.
Lackberg has been dubbed Sweden’s answer to Agatha Christie and it’s not hard to see why. Her ability to write chilling but realistic fiction with compelling characters and a psychological edge is delivered with aplomb in The Drowning.
The Drowning is published by HarperCollins on 25th March 2012. It is available in stores worldwide at the price of £12.99.