Today’s review: The Stranger
Author: Camilla Lackberg
Number of Pages: 381
Genre: Mystery/Crime/Thriller/Scandinavian Literature
Series: The Patrik Hedström Series
A series of tragic road accidents and the murder of a reality TV contestant mark the end to a quiet winter for Detective Patrik Hedström.
The Stranger is the fourth instalment in the Patrik Hedström series by renowned Queen of Scandi-crime, Camilla Lackberg. After a predominantly quiet winter at Tanumshede police station, Detective Patrik Hedström and his colleagues are called to the scene of a car accident. The female driver reeks of alcohol and the case is destined to be written off as a tragic accident. After Patrik discovers a number of discrepancies around the case however, the team at Tanumshede are led to believe that there is more to this accident than meets the eye. On this same day, the station welcomes the newest member to their task force, Hanna Kruse, an officer with a wealth of experience and ambition who hopes to one day climb to a position of chief of police. Meanwhile, the small town of Tanumshede is alive with excitement; cameras are being set up all over town for the beginning of the filming of a new reality TV programme. When an unpopular cast member of the show is later found murdered, Patrik is forced to stretch his mind and his resources to the limit in order to tackle the two cases at once. In addition, his wedding is less than a month away…
If I could summarise this book in one word, it would probably be… comfortable. That’s a little odd for a crime novel, isn’t it? But that’s what it is, it’s comfortable. Which, admittedly, can be a little disappointing. I didn’t actually understand anything that was going on at the start of the novel, but I suppose that was my fault, because I hadn’t realised at first that this novel was part of a series, and so it probably would’ve made more sense at the beginning if I had read the first three books in the Patrik Hedström series. The story did, however, touch more on the background of each of the characters and previous events as the story progressed, so I was eventually able to understand where these people came from and what had happened previously.
I really liked the main characters in this novel, especially Patrik and his fiancee Erica. They are both warm-hearted, yet flawed people, each laden with their own emotional baggage. I loved Erica as the independent, smart, free-thinking woman who is almost like a best friend to Patrik, as well as a lover. What I find even better is that Patrik respects and admires her, and even though she is not a part of the police force, still values her opinions on the cases. I felt that this was a prime example of women treated as equals by their male counterparts in books, instead of just being add-on characters to complain about how their husband is never home, or to provide the cliche “troubled family life of a cop” scenario. Erica respects her husband’s work and understands that the weight of the cases require him to be at the station more often, and even though this is so, Erica is not just an object to be pushed aside when something big comes along. Erica is always a close thought in Patrik’s mind.
I did however find that this very focussed view on the lives and workings of each character took away the suspense and mysterious air of the plot. I mean, accidents that are more than they appear and reality TV-star murders sounds really intriguing, doesn’t it? Well, it never really came off that way in this book. There was so much focus on characters that at some points it’s almost as though Lackberg went “oh yeah, I forgot. I’m meant to be writing about a murder”. What I’m trying to say is that the main plot line of the story sometimes felt almost like an afterthought. I found it disheartening, because the outline of the plot in the blurb really got me interested. I also felt a bit disappointed because I managed to solve the case four chapters before Patrik did. At first I was pretty pleased with myself, then I was just sad, because for me, whatever mystery had been present had all but disappeared.
I also found the language and writing style of the book to be rather dry and bland. Perhaps this is because it has been translated from its original Swedish language, but at times it sounded like Lackberg was writing an informative essay instead of a novel. I think a bit more colour and variation in each of the characters’ speech would have been much more effective, as they all ended up sounding like the same person.
Overall, this book wasn’t incredibly exciting. It doesn’t venture too far out into the unknown, and the loose ends are tied up nicely, save a few to continue into the next book. Lackberg’s characters are enjoyable, and the story’s concept is interesting enough, but I felt that more appeal to senses would be needed in future novels to heighten the tension in scenes where it is necessary.
As I said previously, this is a comfortable novel, good for a bit of light reading, and perhaps for those new to the crime genre who aren’t quite ready for the heavier stuff yet (for those into that, I’d recommend the Kate Burkholder series by Linda Castillo), but I certainly wouldn’t class it as one of my favourite crime novels.