Lackberg, Camilla - 'The Stonecutter' (translated by Steven T Murray)
The third of Camilla Lackberg's series set in the small seaside town of Fjallbacka, Sweden, is every bit as good as the previous two novels. In THE STONECUTTER, Erica has recently had her baby, a daughter called Maja. As well as all the challenging adaptations required by this event, she is suffering from post-natal depression. Her partner Patrik, a detective in the local police force, is sympathetic but not as much as he could be, disappearing with relief to work with each day and not coming home till late. Erica's main respite in her struggles to cope with a screaming baby and a tip of a house is her neighbour and friend Charlotte. Charlotte is married to Niclas, a handsome doctor, and they have two children. For the time being, the young family is living with Charlotte's mother and stepfather while they look for a house of their own, having recently relocated to the area where Charlotte and Niclas grew up.
As the novel opens, Charlotte's elder child, Sara, is found drowned in the sea. Patrik has to convey the dreadful news to the distraught Charlotte and her mother Lilian. Patrik discovers that Sara left the house in the early morning to go and play with her friend who lives nearby, but never turned up. In tracing Sara's last movements, he also becomes reluctantly embroiled in a longstanding feud between Lilian and their retired neighbours.
It soon turns out that Sara's death is no accident: the post-mortem reveals that the girl drowned in the bath. Patrick has to head up a murder investigation, made difficult by the time that has elapsed since the girl died and the post-mortem results being reported, which makes it less likely any forensic evidence will be found. Still, Patrik and his colleagues do their best to cope with an emotionally very difficult case, missing quite a few clues in the process, and also coming across several other unpleasant secrets and suspicious behaviour on the part of the people they interview that may or may not have anything to do with the case.
Erica, in the meantime, does what she can to support Charlotte while struggling with her own exhaustion and feelings of inadequacy. Charlotte's life gets even worse than before as the police uncover more information, and Erica's help is needed as never before.
The best parts of this engaging and well-written novel, excellently translated by the ever-reliable Steven T Murray, are the descriptions of domestic life, and the completely different expectations of the generations. (How Erica manages not to brain her mother-in-law is beyond me!) For me, the least successful part is the story of the titular stonecutter, a historical account from the 1920s which is interspersed with the modern tale. This story is more of a romantic melodrama than anything else, and although it explains some of the reasons for the modern tragedy, I did not feel that it illuminated it significantly, other than to hint at some questions relating to nature versus nurture.
The interplay between the police detectives and the lives of the characters in the small town, however, are absorbing and realistic. I especially identified with Erica and Charlotte, and wished the book could have contained more about them. The crime part of the story – well, the solution depends on a lucky coincidence, and although Patrik and his colleagues are energetic at following up leads when they occur to them, I think they could do with going on a course to brush up their skills a bit before taking on their next case!
Maxine Clarke, England