The Hidden Child
The first sentence of THE HIDDEN CHILD is a winner, an introduction that tugs the reader inexorably into what lies beyond. Though consisting of just a few words, it is full of the suggestion and promise of very bad things right around the corner. And it delivers, not only almost immediately but also throughout the entire book, which is a great one.
THE HIDDEN CHILD is the fifth installment in Camilla Läckberg’s Fjällbacka series. For the uninitiated (which would include me), Fjällbacka is a tourist resort perched on the southwestern coast of Sweden. It is deceptively quiet on the surface, but the waters below churn from time to time. Detective Patrik Hedström is the quietly capable law enforcement officer tasked with investigating whatever floats to the surface in the aftermath; Erica Falck is a crime writer who is married to Hedström. As one might expect, whatever each of them happens to be working on often dovetails with the other’s investigation. While this is an occasional focus of the series, Läckberg takes pains to ensure that domestic issues and conflicts never rise above subplot status, no matter how interesting they may be.
"The first sentence of THE HIDDEN CHILD is a winner, an introduction that tugs the reader inexorably into what lies beyond. Though consisting of just a few words, it is full of the suggestion and promise of very bad things right around the corner. And it delivers, not only almost immediately but also throughout the entire book, which is a great one."
That said, THE HIDDEN CHILD begins with Hedström ostensibly on maternity leave following their daughter Maja’s first birthday. He has hardly changed her first diaper when he is drawn, not entirely involuntarily, into the murder investigation of a local historian. When Erik Frankel, an elderly expert on Nazi memorabilia, is found in his home several months after being murdered, it is unsettling for all concerned, none more so than for Falck. Falck had consulted with Frankel after discovering a Nazi war medal in her mother’s effects, wrapped in a child’s bloody dress and accompanied by a number of diaries apparently written while her mother was a teenager. What is especially disturbing for Falck after reading the diaries is the realization that Frankel and her mother were acquainted during World War II, when Sweden was attempting to assist neighboring Norway during that country’s occupation by Nazi forces.
As Falck and Hedström begin their separate unofficial and official inquiries, respectively, the trails lead to other acquaintances the two old friends held in common, including an elderly woman overtaken by Alzheimer’s disease and the older leader of an anti-immigration organization. When a second murder is committed, it seems all but certain that the recent killings are tied to events that occurred some seven decades before. Two questions hover over the proceedings: who is the murderer, and why are these killings happening some 70 years after the Second World War? As Falck and Hedström move from separate vantage points toward an answer, a killer waits, hoping against hope to evade discovery and justice.
THE HIDDEN CHILD is a complex work that shifts back and forth in time across the decades between World War II and the present, and across the points of view of multiple characters. Läckberg, though, never lets readers lose track of the story’s intriguing, compelling thread, pacing the proceedings perfectly from first page to last. Credit for this also goes to Marlaine Delargy, whose new translation for the United States is on point and never misses a beat. If you are new to the series, it is not necessary to read what has gone before in the lives of Falck and Hedström to fully appreciate what happens in THE HIDDEN CHILD. But you certainly will want to do just that.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on May 16, 2014