The Nordic noir invasion continues. I’m sure that someone (more likely several someones) keeps track of this sort of thing, but I am neither clever nor smart enough to do so. All I know is that the books cross my desk and attract my interest on a weekly, if not a daily, basis, and I attempt to pass them on.
"THE STONECUTTER is one of those rare books that you will be unable to read fast enough, yet you also will want to savor slowly so you can delay the ending."
The latest of these is THE STONECUTTER, written by Camilla Lackberg and very ably translated by Steven Murray (bless those translators, each and all). Originally published in 2005 in Lackberg’s native Sweden, this is her third novel and she has apparently amassed a reputation of sufficient renown since then to have earned the title of “the Swedish Agatha Christie.” The book is part of what we will call the Patrik Hedstrom series, named after a police detective in the town of Fjallbacka, located in the Swedish province of Bohuslan. It is a dark and haunting work, due both to the nature of the deed, which is the impetus behind the plot, and the lives of virtually everyone in the story. Indeed, each paragraph seems to be soaked in fog and weighted with some secret hidden sorrow. Naturally, I loved every word of it from beginning to end.
THE STONECUTTER begins with the grim discovery of the drowned body of Sara Florin, a seven-year-old girl who had left home to play with a neighbor friend and was not even realized to have been missing, let alone the victim of foul play. She is identified almost immediately by Hedstrom, whose wife, Erica, is a friend to Sara’s mother, Charlotte.
There is also a parallel story, set in 1924, involving a laborer --- a stonecutter named Anders Andersson and a rich man’s daughter, Agnes Stjernkvist. An attractive young woman who uses her looks and ability to read people with a sinister twist, Agnes sets her sights upon Anders and toys with him until the predictable occurs. With Agnes in a family way, she is forced by her father to marry Anders, who is shocked to find that the Agnes whom he loves with all of his heart and soul does not return his feelings. The Anders story has a fairy tale-like quality to it, and so it is difficult at first to understand what the storylines have to do with each other, though it slowly becomes clear.
Indeed, Lackberg is never in a hurry as she reveals layers upon layers of information and secrets. Information: Sara’s parents and brother live with Lilian, Charlotte’s mother; Lilian has a long-running and bitter feud with Kaj Wiberg, her next-door neighbor who, in turn, has a son named Morgan, who is on the Asperger’s spectrum. Secrets: Why couldn’t Sara’s father Niclas, a physician, be located when her body was identified? And what is in the letter that Bertil Mellberg, the somewhat hapless police chief, keeps worrying over? Sub-plots and side stories abound, yet Lackberg never loses track of the primary story. The spirit of the dead Sara is a shadowy and chilling presence on each page.
THE STONECUTTER is one of those rare books that you will be unable to read fast enough, yet you also will want to savor slowly so you can delay the ending.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on July 6, 2012