It turned out to be a journey through the pettiness of mankind.
This describes the central character Patrik Hedstrom’s review of a police file detailing a feud between neighbors, but it also describes the complex web of characterization Camilla Lackberg weaves in her latest book, The Stonecutter, and indeed through all her mystery novels that she sets within the small resort community of Fjallbacka. Lackberg doesn’t merely profile investigators (Patrik Hedstrom and Erika his lover and mother of his infant daughter) and suspects, but an entire community of people and the way they react to the crimes in their midst.
The picture usually isn’t pretty. She mercilessly catalogs greed, ignorance, spite, bigotry, jealousy, sloth, self-delusion, cowardice, and, in some cases, true evil among the residents of this supposedly quiet, sleepy town. She showcases the good in them as well and is expert at conveying how they see themselves as compared to how others see them. She lets the people in her books grow and pursues ongoing plot lines through several novels, like Erika’s sister Anna and her nightmare of domestic violence that finally reaches its inevitable conclusion. Lackberg is particularly brilliant in that she showcases how Anna’s nightmare was partly the result of significant tactical errors on Anna’s part (she always takes the path of least resistance) while still maintaining sympathy for her, a feat that elevates Lackberg to a level above her genre’s peers.
There is something about Sweden; indeed about all the Scandinavian countries that lends itself well to a great thriller writer despite the fact that their crime rates are infinitesimal compared to that of the U.S. I for one think it’s the harsh long winter season; six months of utter cold and darkness just naturally lends itself to morbid thinking. One of the most welcome recent Swedish imports to the genre is Camilla Lackberg author of The Ice Princess, Preacher, and now The Stonecutter which has just became available in the U.S.
Lackberg’s books have always been full of disturbing and macabre imagery—bodies found half frozen in an icy bathtub, captives buried beneath the earth, a child deliberately setting the fire that kills his parents—and her latest offering is no different. The book begins with a lobsterman pulling the body of a child out of the sea. This event is tragic enough (the police officer on duty knows the child and identifies little Sarah) but becomes far more sinister once the inevitable evidence of foul play is discovered including a shocking detail that at first seems entirely baffling. The terrible genius of The Stonecutter is how through a series of flashbacks to seemingly unrelated events taking place in the twenties, we, the reader (though not the detectives), learn the psychological impetus behind that detail.
In Lackberg’s works the past is always with the present; crimes that happened many years ago inevitably cast long shadows into the here and now and blood brings more blood. Her willingness to explore the motives and mental workings of the most repellent people is as brave as it is fascinating. The Stonecutter is not only a treat to past fans of Preacher and The Ice Princess but utterly engrossing to new readers as well and the most psychologically adept work we’ve seen from Lackberg yet. Don’t miss it.