The Hidden Child, by Camilla Lackberg – review

by Peter

The Hidden Child, Camilla LackbergThe Hidden Child (original title Tyskungen) is the fifth novel in Camilla Läckberg’s bestselling Swedish crime fiction series, and the sequel to The Gallows Bird.

Like many Swedish fathers, Detective Patrik Hedstrom has chosen to take a paternity leave to stay home for awhile with his one year old daughter Maja. His wife, Erica Falck, wants to spend this time writing a new crime book. However, they both have a hard time adjusting to the new situation. Erica has discovered her mother’s wartime diaries in her attic, along with a mysterious Nazi medal and a blood-stained baby shirt. Curious to learn more, she consults a local World War II historian about the medal and begins to read her mother’s diary.

Soon after, the ageing historian is found brutally murdered in his house, where he lives alone with his brother – a man engaged in the worldwide hunt for Nazi war criminals. Why has the historian been killed now, so long after the war? Did he represent a threat to the growing Neo-Nazi movement in Sweden? Did he have knowledge of long-hidden secrets from the war years in Sweden?

Patrik practically jumps at the chance to involve himself in the investigation. And his assistance really is badly needed – in his absence from the Tanumhede police station, his boss Mellberg quickly takes control over the investigation. As readers familiar with this series well know, Mellberg completely lacks the skills and the intuition of a good detective.

The murder case in The Hidden Child clearly seems to have its roots in war time Sweden. Back then, as a teenager, Erica’s mother Elsy was one of a small group of friends which included the murdered man and his brother, as well as a young boy who later became a leading Swedish neo-Nazi, and the beautiful and flirtatious Britta. When Britta, who suffers from Alzheimer’s, is killed, it starts to look as if the murders have something to do with this little group of friends. But why? How could their actions then possibly result in mayhem sixty years later?

Both Patrik and Erica feel strongly that something must have happened that was related to the group or possibly within the group, but what, exactly, eludes them. As they get closer to the hidden mystery, Erica will discover things about her mother that will forever change her life. She has been haunted by a childhood of neglect, and now she will finally uncover the reasons why – and reveal a stunning truth in the process.

The Hidden Child is among the very best novels (so far) in the Fjallbacka series about Patrik Hedstrom and Erica Falck. The narration alternates between the war time – the years from 1943 to 1945 – and the investigation in the present. As Patrik and his colleagues, along with Erica, try to excavate the past, they increasingly get the feeling that critical information is systematically being withheld from them. Several people seem to know more than they are willing to reveal and seem determined to keep old secrets well buried. But who kills so ruthlessly to bury secrets so old?

The Hidden Child is well-written and excellently translated from the Swedish by Tiina Nunally. The sentences are short and the style straightforward, which makes it easy to keep turning the pages. Camilla Läckberg has crafted an intelligent novel which is nicely balanced. The side stories are quite engaging and interesting in their own right, and the mystery is intriguing. The combination of a police procedural with details of family life and relationships is interesting, and the historical twists work very well too. As I read, the felt the suspense build as my curiosity was activated and I started to long more and more for those dark secrets from the past to be revealed. The Hidden Child is very entertaining, and I had a great time reading it.

Praise for Camilla Läckberg:

‘Camilla Läckberg is probably the hottest female writer in Sweden at the moment… Lackberg’s job is to make the reader pleasurably uncomfortable – one of her ironclad skills’ Independent

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