Nordic but not so noir
Camilla Lackberg is yet another of those fiendishly successful Scandinavian crime writers, a significant part of the splendid Nordic noir that has developed during the last few years.
However, she is nothing like as noir as many of the others, being rather more in the Henning Mankel vein than the Jo Nesbo.
Lackberg's strength lies particularly in her very astute descriptions of her characters' everyday life worries, punctuated by the crimes that beset them. In Buried Angels she also portrays three generations of what seem to be inevitable family tragedies, culminating in the disappearance of all but one member of an entire family in 1974.
Because of events in the present, the mystery of 1974 is now being revisited.
The main police detective involved in the investigation is Patrik Hedstrom, a refreshingly ordinary family man. He is not the usual larger than life detective and does not even suffer from the burdensome angst of Mankell's Wallendar. It seems it is possible to fight crime in Scandinavia without being worn down by life.
At times, it almost appears that part of Hedstrom's character is missing. But Lackberg provides the missing parts in the form of his wife, Erica Falck, a successful crime writer and a far less predictable character than her husband.
It is hard not to believe that the author is projecting herself, perhaps in some idealised form, into Erica. She even has three young children (like Lackberg) about whom she has developed a not altogether motherly technique of often leaving them to their own devices.
Much of the action of Buried Angels, reasonably slow though it is, takes place on the island of Fjallbacka. The main characters keep going back and forth from the mainland to allow the action to proceed. It smacks of the closed room mystery, albeit with the room not fully closed.
While Patrik and Erica go about the investigation in their individual ways, more crimes begin to occur and it becomes clear that a killer in the present is working hard to keep whatever happened in 1974buried.
Although Buried Angels is readable and it is clear why Lackberg has been successful, her writing does not have the bite of other recent crime fiction. Even though her detectives are credible they are a little stereotyped and the plot is slow to unfold. And although the more domestic parts of the book again are credible, they add more to the atmosphere than to the plot or characters. This can tend to make the pages turn a little faster than proper reading would permit.
Moreover, within Buried Angels there are so many facets that it almost as though the writer has tried to include a little too much. There are even links in the past to Himmler, which adds little to the events. It seems to be a contrivance meant to make the tale come alive, but which does nothing to make disbelief suspend.
Interestingly though, in an afterword, Lackberg points out that the Oslo bomb explosion and shootings occurred while she was writing the book. This allows her to point out which parts of Buried Angels were prompted by actual events. And Fallbacka was actually visited by Himmler, so, to be fair, his part in the story is not impossible.
Camilla Lackberg will speak at the following events:
May 14, 7.30pm with Bookenz and the Christchurch Writers Festival, dashtickets.co.nz
Thursay, May 15, noon, Unity Books Wellington
May 15, 6.30pm, Central Library, Palmerston North
May 17 & 18, Auckland Writers Festival, writersfestival.co.nz.
- BURIED ANGELS Camilla Lackberg HarperCollins $30
Sunday Star Times