Patrik Hedström and his partner Erica Falck have a 2 month old daughter Maya and neither of them are getting much rest. Patrik at least gets to escape to office but Erica feels trapped, especially with Patrik’s judgemental and domineering mother staying. Her friend Charlotte is concerned about post-natal depression. But then Charlotte’s world falls apart when her own eight year-old daughter is found dead. At first she is thought to have drowned accidentally but then evidence appears to indicate the death was more sinister.
In Australia during my youth there was an ad campaign for Claytons non alcoholic whisky (this is not the place to ponder the sheer pointlessness of such a product) with a slogan which said “the drink you have when you’re not having a drink” (it’s worth noting the slogan has become part of the local vernacular, the drink itself fell quickly into obscurity). Though I enjoy them a lot I do think Camilla Lackberg’s novels are the crime fiction you have when you’re not having crime fiction.
The first reason for me thinking that this is not entirely a crime fiction novel is that there is, as always with Lackberg’s books, so much else going on. As well as Erica and Patrik coming to grips with their new bundle of joy/horror we have Patrick’s (useless) boss learning a secret about his own past, a colleague at the police station moving in with his new girlfriend and we learn a little more about Erica’s sister’s abuse-filled relationship. And we haven’t even gotten to the suspects yet. Even before the tragic death of Charlotte and her family (she, her husband, mother and terminally ill stepfather all live together) have enough gruesome family secrets and psychological problems between them to keep a barrage of psychiatrists busy for months and their feuding neighbours don’t fare much better. Lackberg is a skilful storyteller though because she depicts these people very believably (they could easily be your neighbours) and draws the reader into caring about how these hastily glimpsed lives will resolve themselves. It is always a sign that an author has created good characters when I start muttering under my breath at some action or statement by someone I don’t like (and there were several someones not to like here).
I should also mention that the eponymous stonecutter is not a present-day character at all. He is a stonecutter living in the 1920′s and his rather tragic story unfolds via a separate historical thread that is woven throughout the novel. It won’t surprise anyone that the two threads are linked but the way this is done does take a bit of working out. For the majority of this part of the tale we’re more concerned with melodrama than we are with crime and I thought this thread had less of an engaging feel to it than the present-day story as it was all a bit inevitable.
And when you get right down to it the crime which is the nub of this novel could have been solved a lot more quickly by anything approaching a competent police force (though the resort town of Fjällbacka in Sweden where the novel is set appears to only have only 3 even vaguely competent people working at their police station). Even Patrik, who is a decent man and policeman, makes some fairly rudimentary mistakes at the outset of the case and he gets the inspiration for the crime’s solution only after he watches an American crime show on TV!
Despite this not-quite-crime-fiction feel though I enjoyed The Stonecutter as translated by the always-excellent Steven T Murray and read to me engagingly by Eamonn Riley (I should consume all my translated fiction this way and learn the proper pronunciations of names instead of the butchery I make of them in my head). Lackberg has created entirely credible characters who range across a spectrum that starts with ‘like a lot’ and ends with ‘would like to see boiled alive in a vat of hot tar’ and she makes the reader care about what happens to them all. I can live with the slightly haphazard crime solving in these circumstances.
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My rating 3.5/5
Translator Steven T Murray
Publisher Harper Collins [this translation 2010]
ISBN N/A downloaded from audible.com
Length 16hours 1 minute
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series #3 in the Erica Falck/Patrik Hedström
Source I bought it