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Gerhardsen, Carin - 'The Gingerbread House' (translated by Paul Norlen)
Paperback: 400 pages (Dec. 2013) Publisher: Penguin ISBN: 1405913789

This is the first of the series of novels featuring Swedish detective Conny Sjöberg and his colleagues in the Stockholm suburb of Hammarby.

In a series of flashbacks to 1968, we see a young boy named Thomas being viciously tormented by his classmates at a pre-school in a deprived neighbourhood, whilst his teacher seemingly pays no attention to their extraordinary cruelty. Fast-forward almost forty years, and Thomas is living a self-consciously introverted life. Friendless and living in bleak accommodation with no career to speak of, he feels his childhood experiences have irrevocably blighted his life. One evening he spots the ringleader of his erstwhile tormentors, Hans Vannerberg, and finds it impossible to resist following him into an empty house.

Seen from an adult perspective, Vannerberg's upbringing was as tough as Thomas', but he has made his way out of the slums and forged a happy life as an estate agent and happily married father-of-two. Arranging an informal evening meeting with a potential vendor puts an end to that. And Vannerberg is not the last of Thomas' classmates to die.

The police get involved when an elderly widow named Ingrid Olsson returns home from hospital and finds Vannerberg dead in her kitchen. Their investigation goes very slowly. Sjöberg in particular is frustratingly slow to make a connection between the murders of a series of 44-year-olds - even after he has commented several times on their age. Meanwhile Thomas remains at large.

For me, the subplot made for more compelling and realistic reading. Sjöberg's young colleague Petra goes out drinking after work, gets talking to a smooth-talking doctor, and wakes up early the following morning with the realisation he has drugged and raped her. Her dogged campaign to bring her attacker to justice makes for a much stronger story.

THE GINGERBREAD HOUSE, originally published in 2008, is the first in what is already series of six, with a seventh in the pipeline. A taster of the English translation of the second novel, CINDERELLA GIRL, appears as a bonus at the end.

There is definite potential in the mixed bag of characters on Sjöberg's team, whom we meet at work, in bars and restaurants, and discussing the case over meatball sandwiches at Lisa's Cafe. There are obvious parallels to Camilla Läckberg, as Gerhardsen contrasts cosy domesticity with violent murder. Sjöberg prepares tapenade spirals with his tribe of 5 children whilst mulling over the case, discusses his ideas with his wife, and uncovers vital clues at a boozy dinner-party with relatives.

If you want to get into a new Scandinavian series, this could be for you.

Read another review of THE GINGERBREAD HOUSE.

Rich Westwood, England
January 2014

Rich blogs at Past Offences.

Details of the author's other books with links to reviews can be found on the Books page.
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 25/01/2014 15:48