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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.




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