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THE STRANGER by Camilla Läckberg: Book Review

Serial killers are not common in Sweden, certainly not in small towns such as Fjällbacka.  But although the idea of such a killer is slow to take hold in the police department, eventually the detectives come to that conclusion when a series of apparently unrelated murders are seen to have a common thread.

The Stranger opens with a new hire for the town’s police department, Hanna Kruse, its first female detective.  She has arrived just in time to join veteran detective Patrik Hedström in investigating a fatal car crash.  At first glance it looks cut-and-dried; the driver smells strongly of alcohol and there’s an empty vodka bottle on the floor.  But there’s something about the scene and the victim’s body that bothers Patrik.

Upon further investigation, Patrik discovers the semi-hidden life of the victim, Marit Kaspersen.  Marit had been living with Kerstin, ostensibly as a roommate, with Kerstin pushing for coming out in the open as lesbians while Marit insisted that it would do irreparable harm to her daughter Sofie.  The two women had fought about this many times, and to Kerstin’s distress, the last words that she and Marit had had the night before the accident ended with Kerstin saying to Marit, “Go ahead and run away….And this time don’t bother coming back!”

Fjällbacka is opening its doors to the filming of a reality television show, with all the attendant publicity and chaos that such filming involves.  The self-involved twenty-somethings in the cast know how the game is played–do the most outrageous things and you get the most airtime.  Chosen from previous reality show contestants, the group includes a girl who cuts herself, a wealthy playboy, a surgically enhanced bombshell, and a Turkish emigree, among others. 

Then one of them disappears, and the already busy police department becomes overwhelmed by the pressure from the national media.   Interestingly, the missing cast member doesn’t seem to have left behind grieving mates; the overwhelming feeling is “sorry she’s gone missing, but look at all the extra publicity we’re getting.”

Several other threads run through the novel, bringing the town and its inhabitants into greater focus.   Patrik’s wife Erica is dealing with her sister Anna, who is deeply depressed by a horrific event that occurred in the previous novel, while caring for Anna’s two children.  Bertil Mellberg, the inept head of homicide, is starting a romantic relationship that will turn his life around.  Erling Larson, a wealthy, self-satisfied businessman, is responsible for bringing the reality show to his town and cares only for the onrush of tourists he expects as a result.  And Hanna, the new detective, appears overly eager to close the book on the automobile crash that claimed Marit’s life.

The Stranger is Camilla Läckberg’s seventh book that has been translated into English.  The novels should ideally be read in sequence, as the characters and stories continue from one to the other.  But even if you start with The Stranger, I promise you’ll want to go back and read the others to get the full story of life in Fjällbacka.

You can read more about Camilla Läckberg at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.




SHOOT TO THRILL by P. J.Tracy: Book Review

The mother-daughter team of P. J. Tracy has written another Monkeewrench novel about two winning teams: the computer geeks/hackers/geniuses at Monkeewrench and the Minneapolis detective team of Leo Magozzi and Gino Rolseth.  And the entertaining style of Patricia Lambrecht (mother) and Traci Lambrecht (daughter) combines to make this book hard to put down.

In Shoot to Thrill, it appears that the Web has spawned a new kind of evil, pre-posts of murders that are then carried out. There seems to be a Wisconsin connection, a strange thing in a state where nothing bad ever happens, or hardly ever.  But it all comes to light in nearby Minneapolis, the home of the Monkeewrench group and Magozzi and Rolseth.

The F.B.I., being legally unable to hack into sites that may be hiding these killers, sends its agent, John Smith, to Minneapolis to work with Monkeewrench to uncover the web sites that are posting the murders on YouTube for the whole world to watch.  Straight as an arrow, Smith is nearly at the Bureau’s mandatory age of retirement of 57 and is thinking back over his lackluster career.  He had dreams of heroic exploits that never came to pass, and his association with Monkeewrench may be the “slippery slope” that will make him look outside the box he has created for himself.

Magozzi, meanwhile, is still dealing with his unrequited love for Grace McBride, the founder of the Monkeewrench computer experts.  Grace, in turn, is unable to commit to any relationship due to her feelings of guilt over the deaths of close friends and associates for which she blames herself.

During the national search for the killers who are posting the murders on the Internet, the Minneapolis P.D. is also confronted with a series of possible bombs planted at various locations around the city. Is this the work of a terrorist group or simply some copycat teenagers out to disrupt the city as a joke?  F.B.I. profiler Chealsea Thomas thinks the latter but can’t be certain.

Even though the plot is a serious one, there’s a lot of humor in this series. There’s a lot of clever repartee between Magozzi and Rolseth, two typical cops who can’t let on how fond they are of each other.  The Monkeewrenches are oddball characters who have made a fortune with their video games and now can pick and choose what they want to do.

The authors have given each member an offbeat vibe:  Harley Davidson (yes!) owns the mansion where the group works and is a fabulous cook; Grace McBride also cooks but locks herself in her house with its barred windows and steel door; Annie Belinsky wears costumes rather than clothes; and Roadrunner (no first name given) lives in Lycra jogging outfits.

The Monkeewrench series is an enjoyable one, and this mother and daughter team have a lot on the ball.

You can read more about P. J. Tracy at her/their web site.