Review: The Stonecutter by Camilla Lackberg

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.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

I’ve reviewed the first two books in this series The Ice Princess and The Preacher

This book has been reviewed at Crime ScrapsEuro Crime (Karen reviews the audio book) and Euro Crime (Maxine reviews the print book)

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
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

This entry was posted in book review, Camilla Lackberg, Nordic Challenge 2011, Sweden. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Review: The Stonecutter by Camilla Lackberg

  1. Cliff Bott says:

    I’m unlikely ever to read the book but I loved the reference to the term ‘Clayton’s’ and its origin. A word I haven’t heard for a long time.

    Like

  2. LOL Cliff, I think it’s only here and in NZ that it is understood, I remember saying it in an English pub and they looked at me strangely. More strangely than they usually looked at me 🙂

    Like

  3. JoV says:

    I like the “not-quite-crime-fiction feel” about the book like the one I read recently “Sister” by Rosamund Lipton, I thought it was fab. Just as long as I am warned about the not-quite-crime-fiction feel, I think I will enjoy this book. First I need to get through the Preacher and Ice Princess first, which are sitting on my shelf! Thanks for the review (and thanks for the metaphor about non-alcoholic whiskey because I take non-alcoholic beer as well and it tasted great!).

    Like

  4. Bernadette – Thanks, as ever, for this well-crafted review. That’s the thing, I think, with well-drawn characters. When you start to care about them to the point where a truly engaging mystery is less important, then you know the author’s done her or his job of character development. And it is interesting that you feel this is not entirely a crime fiction novel. I think there are a lot of talented authors out there whose work doesn’t fit easily into one or another genre/sub-genre. Your post is a good example of what I mean.

    Like

  5. Norman says:

    I love your analogy with the Claytons. Having read the next one The Gallows Bird I think this series is getting better and a bit more “crime fiction” as it goes along while still retaining the sub plots with those wonderful characters. My favourite is that complete incompetent loser of a boss, Mellberg. I wonder what stupidity he is going to get himself involved in next.

    Like

  6. Haha, excellent review – as always.
    I also found plenty to like, but I agree wholeheartedly on the ´melodrama´ of the old story.

    Like

  7. Maxine says:

    Quite a lot of fiction is like this these days – “crime” is perceived as being a seller, so publishers package their content accordingly. Sister (Jo V’s Commnent) is a good case in point, it is a very good, and moving story, but the crime plot is tacked on and reads like a silly add-on. I did not like the historical sections of The Stonecutter which to me came straight out of Mills&Boon or saga territory. Ie oversimplistic. I felt the same way about the historical sections of The Man from Beijing by Henning Mankell, they had none of the subtlety of the contemporary sections.
    It is the style of historical writing that gives the characters a sweeping view of the times they are in, which is unrealistic as this only happens with time and perspective.
    However, I liked the present-day aspects of the novel, and so enjoyed the book as a whole. Agreed that the detectives are particularly dumb, if they employed Erica none of the books would ever get past page 10 as she would have sorted them all out by then.

    Like

  8. Amanda Mac says:

    I do so agree with those of you who consider that Patrick “botched” the investigation. I had this opinion too, as he had done a better job in the previous novels. Herein I reveal the secret of Lackberg’s sucess: if one reads the series in order the reader starts to become embroiled in these characters to the point of feeling like they are part of the Uddevalla Fjallbacka community. Good point that it is a Clayton’s crime story, but isn’t that part of the attraction. A good mystery combined with a lot of soapy stuff. And always the ” dark shadow” that crossses a character’s face revealing ….something but nothing…. this keeps the reader guessing and enthralled, eagerly awaiting the next instalment. I am an unashamed fan but does conceed it is not literay genius but nevertheless, it is highly entertaining. Have just received “Hidden Child” in the mail…..are any of these made into film?

    Like

  9. Pingback: a marvelous answer to a non-question « Scandinavian Crime Fiction

  10. Thanks for the kind words about the translations. Tiina (who has now taken over for the next four books) and I appeared with Camilla at Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, Arizona, a few months ago, and she told us about the new stories she’s working on for Swedish TV. Apparently they will be keeping her busy enough so that she’ll only be doing one Erica & Patrik novel every two years from now on. I have no idea whether anyone is filming the Fjällbacka series.

    Like

  11. Pingback: Books of the Month – August 2011 | Reactions to Reading

  12. Pingback: Wrapping up the Nordic Book Challenge 2011 | Reactions to Reading

  13. Pingback: Review: THE HIDDEN CHILD by Camilla Lackberg | Reactions to Reading

  14. Pingback: Review: The Drowning by Camilla Lackberg | Reactions to Reading

Comments are closed.