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BOOK REVIEW: 'The Hidden Child': Cop Shop Chronicle Reminiscent of Ed McBain's 87th Precinct Novels Transported to Sweden
In Camilla Läckberg's "The Hidden Child" (Pegasus Crime, 544 pages, $25.95, translated from the Swedish by Marlaine Delargy) I've found a crime novel that treats the members of the Tanumshede, Sweden police squad much as Ed McBain did the 87th squad in a very thinly described New York City called Isola.
(McBain's series is based on the work of the police detectives of the 87th Precinct in Isola, which represents Manhattan. Other districts in McBain's fictionalized version of NYC correspond to the Big Apple's other four boroughs: Calm's Point standing in for Brooklyn. Majesta representing Queens, Riverhead representing the Bronx, and Bethtown a stand-in for Staten Island. Isola is Italian for "island": McBain, the crime writing pen name of novelist Evan Hunter, was born Salvatore Albert Lombino -- and all of New York's boroughs are on islands, except for the Bronx.)
One of the Tanumshede detectives, Patrik Hedström, is on paternity leave. He's married to crime writer Erica Falck, who is shocked to discover a Nazi medal among her late mother’s possessions. For those who are history deprived, Sweden was neutral during World War II -- a period covered in flashback in this novel -- but it supplied raw materials for Nazi Germany. Sweden also had a homegrown Nazi movement sympathetic to Germany.
Erica's childhood was anything but ideal, even by the standards we've come to expect from "Nordic Noir" typified by Läckberg and Stieg Larsson, among other Scandinavian writers.
Erica -- like the good writer she is -- decides to investigate what caused her mother's coldness. Her enquiries lead her to the home of a retired history teacher, Erik Frankel. He was among her mother’s circle of friends during the Second World War but her questions are met with bizarre and evasive answers. Two days later he meets a violent death. Despite being on leave, Patrik Hedström soon becomes involved in the murder investigation, much to the annoyance of Erica, who wants him to bond with their year-old girl, Maja -- and free her from mothering for a while so she can do her work.
Who would kill so ruthlessly to bury secrets so old? At first, Erica is reluctant to read her mother’s wartime diaries. When she does, she unearths a painful revelation about Erica’s past. Could what little knowledge she has be enough to endanger her husband and baby girl?
In addition to the characters in the small city's police force, Erica encounters a journalist who isn't all that different from Larsson's Mikael Blomkvist and his "Millennium" magazine. "Millennium" is modeled on "Expo," co-founded by Stieg Larsson.
"The Hidden Child" is a magnificent work of crime writing and the characters that include police officers Martin Molin, Bertil Mellberg and Paula Morales are every bit as interesting as Steve Carella, Meyer Meyer, Bert Kling, Arthur Brown and all the other 87th Precinct cops. That's high praise indeed from a devotee of McBain!
About the author
Camilla Läckberg, 39, educated at Gothenberg University, worked as an economist in Stockholm until a course in creative writing triggered a drastic career change. Her novels have all been #1 bestsellers in Sweden, and she is the most profitable native author in Swedish history. She was the #1 bestselling female author in Europe last year and her novels have been sold in thirty-five countries. Her previous novels are "The Ice Princess" and "The Preacher", also available from Pegasus Books. Camilla lives in a suburb of Stockholm with her husband and five children. Her website in English: http://www.camillalackberg.com/
More about Swedish Nazis: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazism_in_Sweden