THE DROWNING is the sixth book depicting life and death in Fjällbacka, Sweden’s answer to Cabot Cove or the villages of Midsomer. Its prologue features a description of a man’s death and the story proper then opens with police detective Patrik Hedström and his colleagues searching for Magnus Kjellner who has been missing for some months and whose wife visits the police station weekly to ask for updates. But no one, least of all Läckberg, seems terribly concerned about the man’s disappearance. There are, after all, pregnancies, nappies, parenting leave, pregnancies and other domesticity to discuss. At length.
We are also introduced to Christian Thydell, a local resident and debut author who has been receiving anonymous and threatening letters for some time. He has kept these a secret even from his wife but makes the mistake of mentioning them to his mentor and fellow author Erica Falck. She tells her husband, the aforementioned police detective, and their shared publisher with the result that every man and his dog is soon aware of Christian’s problems. Eventually links are made between Christian’s story and the missing man’s but it seems to take the Fjällbacka police a lot longer than it will take the average reader to work this all out.
These stories are intertwined with flashbacks to the life of a troubled young boy who was orphaned, fostered, bullied and almost responsible for the death of his sibling. Again, the connections seemed fairly obvious but this part of the book was in some ways the most successful for me as the characters in it at least felt like their creator was interested in what was happening to them. With the contemporary story I didn’t get much sense at all that the author really cared about the characters. At least that’s my interpretation of their collective insipidness.
I was going to try to be polite about the book because, on one level, it’s a perfectly competent cosy mystery. There’s oodles of domesticity, a straightforward whodunnit and the inevitable cliffhanger ending that gives the book something of a soap-opera feel. My problem is, I suppose, that the books are marketed as psychological thrillers or suspense novels and this one at least is nothing of the kind. Partly this is because the day-to-day lives of the series’ continuing characters occupy more time than the actual mystery despite the fact that nothing terribly new is happening to any of them. All the ones who are pregnant have been pregnant before and, honestly, there is a limit to how many discussions about how to fit parenting leave into their lives I am interested in (for the record that limit was probably reached about half-way through the previous book in this series). The endless consumption of buns with or without coffee, the repetition of jibes about Erica eating for two (she is pregnant with twins which I don’t count as a spoiler as it is revealed very early on) and being unable to stand up on her own whenever she sits down grew tiresome.
Perhaps if the mystery story had been stronger I’d have felt differently about this book but I thought the plot fairly obvious and it didn’t seem to tackle anything new either. In most of her previous books the mysteries have delved into an interesting area, such as THE HIDDEN CHILD‘s exploration of nazism in Sweden in both historical and contemporary times. Here a cast of insipid characters strolled through a story that expressed mild rebuke at poor parenting – a topic Lackberg has address in earlier novels (with better results). The psychological twist in the resolution was both predictable and unconvincing.
To me THE DROWNING feels like a book churned out to formula and it verged on treating its readers like idiots. At one point early on for example Patrik, who has been described as turning Magnus Kjellner’s life inside out in the period before the book opens, has a conversation with the man’s wife asking who his friends were. Surely this would have come up somwhere in the three months of exhaustive searching for the man? Especially as he only had three?
In its favour the book did pick up towards the end with the last third having a decent pacing and I did, as always, enjoy the narration of the audio version by Eamon Riley (in fact I’m not sure I’d have bothered finishing the book if I’d been reading it in print). Having enjoyed this author’s previous books I will give the next one a go on the grounds this could be an aberration. But the quality will have to be substantially improved if I’m not to consign this series to the “once good, now formulaic” list that so many other long-running authors have been added to.
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My rating 2.5/5
Translator Tiina Nunnally
Narrator Eamonn Riley
Publisher Harper Collins Audio 
Length 15 hours 28 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series #6 in the Erica Falck/Patrik Hedström series
Source I bought it
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