Those who read Scandinavian crime fiction have not been surprised at the revelations of violent neo-Nazi movements in the Nordic countries. This subculture has been laceratingly exposed by several writers, and finds echoes in novels by two of the best female writers in Sweden, Camilla Lackberg and Åsa Larsson (discussed elsewhere on this site). Examining the less admirable aspects of the region’s past, both of their books were written before the Norwegian Breivik killings in 2011, but now carry a retrospective chill. However, neither are po-faced social documents but richly textured crime novels.
‘Political issues have a way of forcing themselves into one’s work,’ Camilla Lackberg has said to this writer: ‘In my books, I’ve written about a Far Right party that steams ahead in the Swedish parliament. It has surprised and saddened me that people actually will vote for these small-minded individuals. Of course, having said that, l believe many of the old socialist ideas needed to be retired, so a shake-up is not necessarily a bad thing.’
Lackberg (a celebrity of JK Rowling proportions in Sweden) is inspired by British crime writers such as Ruth Rendell, and comparisons may be drawn between modern Britain and Sweden, an implication (for instance) that a lack of joined-up thinking is just as endemic in Swedish policing as it is in the British system.
In The Hidden Child, Erica Falck is writing a new crime novel, but has made a significant discovery: her mother’s diary from the war, along with a Nazi medal and a T-shirt stained with blood. She consults a local World War II historian, but then the elderly scholar is savagely murdered in a house he shares with his brother, who is tracking Nazi war criminals. Does the killing have anything to do with the burgeoning neo-Nazi movement in Sweden? And what did the dead man know about the clandestine activities of the country in the war years? There is an alternation between the present and the 1940s in the novel that Lackberg handles with steely skill, as she does the dangerous investigation into stygian secrets from Sweden’s past.
Reviewed by Barry Forshaw
THE HIDDEN CHILD
Written by Camilla Lackberg
Translated from the Swedish by Tiina Nunnally
Published by Harper (2007)
Barry Forshaw’s books include Crime Fiction: A Reader’s Guide, the Keating Award-winning Brit Noir and Nordic Noir. Other work: Death in a Cold Climate, Sex and Film and the British Crime Writing encyclopedia (also a Keating Award winner). He edits Crime Time (www.crimetime.co.uk).
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