I have to admit that I'm a complete novice when it comes to Scandinavian crime fiction.
Prior to reading Camilla's Lackberg's 'The Stonecutter', the only Swedish novelist I had heard of, let alone read, was Steig Larsson and his Millennium trilogy.
It seems, however, that Scandinavian crime fiction is gaining momentum as a genre across the world and Lackberg is one of its brightest stars. At only 35 she has contributed six bestsellers to the movement, with a seventh on the way. 'The Stonecutter' is her third novel and the most recent one available in English (translated by Steven T Murray who, incidently, also translated Larsson's Millenium trilogy).
Like the rest of Lackberg's books, 'The Stonecutter' is set in the tiny town of Fjallbacka on Sweden?s west coast where the author herself grew up.
The novel opens with a lobster fisherman hauling the body of a seven year-old-girl out of the icy sea. The policeman asked to lead the investigation is Patrik Hedstrom, a new father. His partner Erica suffers from post-natal depression and the case provides him with an excuse to escape back into the world of grownups. When the autopsy reveals the girl had fresh water and ashes in her lungs, the case becomes a homicide.
The victim is Sara, the daughter of Erica's closest friend Charlotte and her husband Niclas. The couple has recently moved back to Fjallbacka and is living with Charlotte's difficult and interfering mother Lilian and her ailing husband Stig while they look for a place of their own. As Patrik and his colleagues start uncovering leads, they begin to unravel an evil in Fjallbacka that goes far beyond Sara?s murder.
Woven between the present-day happenings in Fjallbacka is the story of Agnes, the beautiful and bratty daughter of one the town's wealthiest residents in the early twentieth century. Agnes's decision to seduce a stonecutter sets into motion a series of events that will haunt the town decades later.
Lackberg does well to tackle the effect of crime on families that are already trying to cope with infedility, spousal abuse, depression, parenting and pornography. In an article for The Guardian UK she says, "I think ours [Scandinavian] is a tradition that has much in common with English crime writing: there's a very similar care for setting, characters, and psychology." And she's right. Although the names and icy settings are unfamiliar, Lackberg?s small town feels familiar and this particular murder mystery is great entertainment.