Those of us who devoured Camilla Lackberg’s THE STONECUTTER will rejoice over the publication of THE STRANGER. Thanks to Steven T. Murray’s able and sturdy translation, readers return to the small Swedish community of Tanumshede and its quietly beleaguered police department. Detective Patrik Hedstrom continues to function as the de facto head of the department, while the nominal chief steps forward merely to take bows or shift blame, depending upon what circumstances shall demand.
"While the mysteries that form the heart of THE STRANGER make the book well worth reading, it is the characters who make the tale so quietly compelling."
THE STRANGER presents a set of compelling and complex cases that are by turns perplexing and only apparently obvious. The book begins with a lovers' quarrel that results in Marit Kaspersen leaving their shared domicile in a state of distress. She is found the next morning, the apparent victim of a one-car automobile accident. Alcohol appears to be a contributing factor to the circumstances, given that an empty bottle of spirits is discovered in the car and the blood alcohol content of the deceased is extremely elevated. Yet there is something about the case that bothers Hedstrom, not the least of which is the fact that the victim never used alcohol and has bruises and abrasions around her mouth.
Hedstrom and the squad barely begin their investigation when the cast of a popular reality show invades Tanumshede to film several episodes. The police department is taxed to the limit in trying to control the hysteria surrounding the cast members’ presence in town, particularly when the abrasive relationships between certain personalities result in some ugly scenes. But when one of the cast members turns up murdered, it puts an entirely new spin on the program, which the producers are all too eager to capitalize upon, much to Hedstrom’s dismay.
The investigation into Marit’s murder takes a momentary back seat until Hedstrom realizes that the circumstances surrounding her death bear a marked similarity to a case from several years ago that occurred in another remote part of Sweden and ultimately was ruled a suicide. When Hedstrom examines the evidence that was gathered in the investigation of the earlier death, he concludes that the two incidents are directly related. It appears that a serial killer has been quietly operating in Sweden for years, unbeknownst to the authorities, and may be planning to strike again.
However, Hedstrom is under pressure to deal with the celebrity murder, and with the eyes of the nation upon Tanumshede, he may have no choice but to devote his investigative attention to it. Hedstrom’s pending nuptials with his beloved, and the attendant complications arising from it, provide some comic relief to the otherwise dark and somber tone of the novel, as does the sudden love interest of the hapless police chief, who appears to have found uncharacteristic happiness at last.
While the mysteries that form the heart of THE STRANGER make the book well worth reading, it is the characters who make the tale so quietly compelling. That later quality is the hallmark of many of the authors toiling in the fields of Nordic noir and is certainly true of Camilla Lackberg, whose characters are instantly memorable and remain so long after the satisfying puzzles that form the core of the book are resolved.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on May 24, 2013