It’s easy to see how Camilla Läckberg has become Sweden’s bestselling native author—and how her detective novels have proven so popular in translation. Her Fjällbacka series is peopled with complex and interesting people who grow from book to book, and each mystery is unique. A central cast of characters appears in each, but it changes in natural ways. Nothing stands still in these novels.
Camilla Läckberg has a well-developed understanding of the twists and turns in human development. If anything, however, her view of human nature is dark. The mood that prevails in the Fjällbacka series rarely reaches the levels of depression and despair found in Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander books, or in Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole novels. But these are not happy stories. Human folly frequently comes to the surface here. Somehow, it all seems natural for a Swedish writer.
In The Stranger, the fourth entry in the Fjällbacka series, detective Inspector Patrik Hedstrøm and true-crime writer Ericka Falck are raising their months-old daughter, Maya. Or, rather, Ericka is doing all the work. Patrik’s job regularly intrudes. To compound Ericka’s problem, her wedding is imminent, and she’s been unable to find the time to make any plans. To make matters even worse, her younger sister, Anna, and two young children have moved into the house. Anna is in a deep depression after killing her abusive husband in self-defense, leaving Ericka to raise all three children—and, presumably, to make all the arrangements for the wedding. Then Patrik’s sporadic help at home dries up almost completely as he is assigned a brutal and baffling case. A middle-aged woman stinking of alcohol has driven her car off the road and crashed into a tree, apparently either an accident or a suicide. Patrik isn’t so sure, though. And it soon becomes clear that his doubts are well placed.
Meanwhile, a tasteless reality TV show has set up shop in a small town bordering Fjällbacka. Goaded by the show’s producer, six young people are indulging in a toxic mix of alcohol, hard drugs, and sex on camera. Then one of the six, a 19-year-old woman, is murdered, too. Suddenly, Patrik and his colleagues on the police force are strained by investigations into two murders. And one of them is making front-page news all across Sweden because it involves the country’s top-rated reality show.
Every one of the Fjällbacka novels is eventful to a fault. A large cast of characters requires both concentration and a good memory, as Läckberg constantly shifts perspective from one to another. In The Stranger, we become enmeshed in the lives of every one of Patrik’s colleagues, from the hapless and stupid chief of police to the new female detective who joins the force. Patrik’s mother, Ericka’s sister, and her ex-lover all emerge in three dimensions as well. And throughout the book, in a brief reflective passage at the beginning of each chapter, we enter the mind of a man who will clearly emerge with a key role in the story.
If your taste runs to intellectually challenging fare in detective fiction, you’ll love the Fjällbacka series.