Friday, February 10, 2012

The Preacher

by Camilla Lackberg
New York, The Free Press, 2011
401 pages      Fiction
There is a tremendous sense of place in the mysteries of Camilla Lackberg. Fjӓllbacka is a small fishing village in northern Sweden where nothing ever happens…or so it seems. The Preacher is the second installment of the series; the first being The Ice Princess, which I read last winter. Violence continues to happen to women in Fjӓllbacka; this time a young German tourist is found murdered and when they rescue her body from the cliffs overlooking the sea, they find the skeletons of two other young women who disappeared 20 years before. The three bodies bear similar wounds.

The tourist season is in full swing in Fjӓllbacka, and as Patrik and Erica are getting ready for their first baby, the relatives are descending on them enmass. It’s hot, the relatives are obnoxious, Erica has had enough, and Patrik is happy enough to escape to the police station, where he is the detective in charge of the murder investigation.

The main suspects seem to be the Hult family, influential in the community for three generations, the grandfather having been a free-church evangelist. The rest of the family has been influenced profoundly by his spirit. It takes until the end of the book to find exactly how powerful his influence has been.

Lackberg’s writing style takes a bit of getting used to. She writes the book in segments, varying the characters with the action; one reviewer suggested making a list of the characters and groups so you don’t lose track of who belongs where. Because I read the book in two plane rides, I didn’t have the problem of figuring out the cast of characters, but the list is probably a good idea if you are having trouble or are reading in spurts.

Although mystery series are fun to read in order, it isn’t necessary to read The Ice Princess to know what is going on in The Preacher. The Ice Princess takes place in the winter and The Preacher in the summer, and while the community and the characters are the same, the plot stands alone. Patrik and Erica are in very different places in their lives; happily living together expecting their first baby, and the reader is able to jump into the storyline without any confusion about the main characters.

The immense pleasure in The Preacher comes from not knowing too early whodunit. I was kept guessing until near the end. And by then, I was reading as fast as I could to try to keep up with the plot. The characters keep you entertained as well; some of Patrik’s fellow police officers are great bumblers, Patrik has a wonderfully idiosyncratic personality, and the police chief, who played a large role in the first book, has taken a lesser role in this episode but is as funny and annoyingly endearing.
The Preacher deals with the concepts of good and evil, family rivalry and family ties, and divine destiny. The shock in the book comes not from finding out the killer but why he is the killer. For quite a while, I wondered why the book was called The Preacher, when the preacher character has been dead for many years, but then I realized that his spirit permeated every pore of the Hult family and every action they took over a 20 year period. Every secret they kept was because of him.

Two other things to mention: first, Lackberg can hold her own as a writer. She doesn’t have to constantly be compared to Steig Larson of Dragon Tattoo fame. They are two very different writers. Lackberg is not concerned with political corruption, only the corruption of the soul. It would be like comparing American writers just because they are both Americans. The second thing to mention is that the book is skillfully translated by Steven Murray (who also translated Steig Larson’s books). He is such a skillful translator that I completely forgot that I was reading a translated book.

I look forward to the next mystery in Fjӓllbacka. And just where is Fjӓllbacka? Here is the description from Lackberg’s website:
"Camilla’s books are set in Fjällbacka, the coastal village where Camilla was born and raised. In northern Bohuslän, about 140 km north of Göteborg, lies the little community of Fjällbacka. Already a fishing village in the 17th century, Fjällbacka is now an idyll that’s steeped in history. Its name derives from the imposing rocky outcrop that the village encircles. Thousands of tourists visit Fjällbacka in the summer. For the rest of the year, there’s about 1,000 permanent residents. Fjällbacka might be small, but there are still hotels, cafés and shops. The best way to get to Fjällbacka without a car is by train to Uddevalla. You can also take a train to Dingle and from there take a bus to Fjällbacka, or alternatively fly to Trollhättan and make your way from there."

Camilla Lackberg’s website:

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