HarperCollins, £12.99, 373pp. £11.69 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
The Gallows Bird, By Camilla Läckberg, trans. Steven T Murray
Friday 11 March 2011
The fact that a reality television show features in Camilla Läckberg's mesmerising new novel will mean little to English readers of this best-selling Nordic writer, but her fellow Swedes might discern a little score-settling. Läckberg was the subject of much unwanted attention when the details of her divorce became headline news in Sweden. The most infinitesimal detail of her private life became a matter of public interest, so that when she began a relationship with a man also very well known in Sweden (a policeman who was the first winner of the Swedish version of the reality show Survivor), the scrutiny was ratcheted up to an even higher level. On a recent visit to Britain, she was bemused when it was pointed out to her that some crime fiction authors here would kill for that kind of attention.
The important thing about Läckberg, though, is the remarkable success her moody crime novels have enjoyed abroad - a success yet to be replicated in this country. Will The Gallows Bird deliver Britain to her?
In all her work, Läckberg examines her own sense of identity – both as a writer and as a Swede. She is a Scandinavian, but her literary template (and spiritual home) is the cloistered English town as evoked in Agatha Christie's St Mary Mead; large cosmopolitan cities have no appeal for her. The vagaries of human nature are her palette, in all their multiple aspects, along with a Manichean sense of good and evil.
The Gallows Bird is the fourth entry in Läckberg's Fjällbacka series. A car crash in Tanumshede initially appears to be a simple accident, but a second, similar accident has Detective Patrick Hedström wondering if the victims in both had been murdered. At the same time, Tanumshede is in something of a turmoil because of a reality TV show which is being produced locally.
The frenzied attention given to the five-minutes-of-fame stars has Hedström beginning to suspect that the killer is connected with the phenomenon. The detective's private life is distinctly unsettled, as he is tackling the problems of his forthcoming marriage to the writer Erica Falck (the couple are the central characters in Läckberg's sequence); problems sidelined when a chaotic alcohol-fuelled party ends with the death of an unpopular contestant on the TV show.
As with earlier books (ably translated by Steven T Murray), there is an adroit manipulation of elements: the unpredictable plotting, the striking evocation of life in this idyllic (but flawed) community and - perhaps most satisfying - the intriguing interaction between Patrick and Erica, both loving and fractious. It's Läckberg's particular skill to have created two of the most fully rounded characters in contemporary crime fiction, with a warmth that cuts through the Nordic chill.
Her publishers are hoping to finesse for Läckberg the success in the UK she enjoys on her native soil and in Germany, where her sales are prodigious. The Gallows Bird may be the book to pull off that particular coup, though addicts of reality TV may not be the target readership.
Is the comedy album making a comeback?comedy
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Secret Cinema: Why were Back to the Future screenings cancelled?
- 2 Christians: The world's most persecuted people
- 3 The secret report that helps Israelis to hide facts
- 4 Danish TV reporter is all business up top, all party down below
- 5 Ross Burden dead: MasterChef and Ready Steady Cook star, dies aged 45
Top Gear Burma episode breached Ofcom rules over Jeremy Clarkson's racial slur
Secret Cinema: Why were Back to the Future screenings cancelled?
Game of Thrones season 4 blooper reel unveiled at Comic-Con 2014
Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 teaser trailer sees Katniss lead rebellion against the Capitol
The Simpsons Family Guy trailer: First look at crossover episode after Comic-Con debut
The secret report that helps Israelis to hide facts
A day in the life of Vladimir Putin: The dictator in his labyrinth
Were 'Poor Doors' added to mixed developments so wealthy residents don't have to go in alongside social housing tenants?
A new Russian revolution: The cracks are starting to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Arizona execution lasts two hours as killer Joseph Wood left 'snorting and gasping' for air
Opponents of Israel's military operation in Gaza are the real enemies of Middle Eastern peace