Monday, May 19, 2014

The Hidden Child

by Camilla Lӓckberg
Pegasus     2014
400 pages     Fiction

The Hidden Child is another of Lӓckberg's Fjallbacka mysteries featuring Erika, the author, and Patrik, the police detective. This time, however, Patrik is on paternity leave from the police department with full care of their daughter Maja while Erika writes a novel. The story line extends beyond Erika and Patrik with Lӓckberg exploring the Nazi connections in Sweden and Norway during World War II, and the neo-Nazi movement in Sweden currently.

Erika, who is ostensibly writing a novel, is in actuality using her time to explore her mother's youth. Erika's mother has always been an enigma to her, and she is hoping to gain some understanding by reading her teenage diaries, which were written in 1944 and 1945. Although Fjallbacka is a small town, Erika had never met her mother's childhood friends, and she never could understand her mother's aloofness and lack of affection for her children. Among her mother's effects, she finds a Nazi war medal and this leads her on a search for a reason why her mother would have such a medal. Then, quite abruptly, two of her mother's childhood friends are found murdered, and Erika's search becomes intensified.

The police characters are much the same as in the previous Fjallbacka mysteries—including the police superintendent, Mallberg, one of my favorite characters in this series. In this episode, he has found love, has become tolerant of the lesbian detective Paula and her partner (who are expecting a baby by the way) and has been adopted by a stray dog. The good humored acceptance of Mallberg by the other detectives adds some lightness to the otherwise dark novel.

The story line goes back and forth between the search for the murderer and the scene in Fjallbacka in 1944-1945 when Erika's mother was a teenager. One reviewer says that Lӓckberg uses "steely skill" in handling the time and generation changes. Like the rest of the books in the series, Lӓckberg explores family secrets—those things that never get talked about but remain just under the surface of family life. 

There may be a few too many characters to keep everyone straight. I had particular trouble keeping Erika's sister's family organized in my brain. I'm not sure they even need to be in the book, unless Lӓckberg has a plan for them in the next novel. I remember in a review of a past Lӓckberg novel that the reviewer suggested keeping a character list to keep all the characters straight.

Three old men are major characters in The Hidden Child; all of their lives changed by World War II—Erik, a historian specializing in World War II, Axel who ran an organization that tracked down and prosecuted Nazis, and Frans, who became a neo-Nazi in adulthood. Now in their late 70s they are still dealing with the consequences of their actions in the 1940s. Axel asks Frans, "How did things turn out this way?" Frans replies, "That's what I'm trying to tell you. It doesn't matter how things turned out this way. It is what it is. And all we can do is try to make changes, to survive. Not to look back, not to wallow in regret or speculation as to how things might have been. . .You mustn't look back. What's done is done. The past is the past. There is no such thing as regret." Axel responds: "That's where you're wrong, Frans. That's where you're very wrong." Regret permeates the novel. 

My book club recently read a novella written by John Steinbeck about the Nazi invasion of Norway, The Moon is Down. It was a perfect companion novel to The Hidden Child.

My only complaint about The Hidden Child is the title. It gives away an important detail of the novel that the reader keeps waiting and waiting to be revealed. The novel was published in Swedish several years ago, and was made into a Swedish movie. It has just now been released in English. I have written about two other Lӓckberg novels, The Ice Princess and The Preacher. While all three are part of a series they don't need to be read in order. I enjoyed them all.

Camilla Lӓckberg website:

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