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Friday, March 31, 2017

The Lost Child. Camilla Lackberg (Writer),Tina Nunnally (Translation). Harper (2013)

A very enjoyable, engaging and somewhat strange Swedish crime story. A man is shot in the entrance hallway to his apartment with no apparent motive. The investigation lead by Detective Patrick Hedstrom finds that Mats Severin was an intensely private man who did not seem to have any enemies who had recently returned to the seaside town of Fjallbacka as the council's financial director. Mats school sweetheart, Nathalie has also returned to Fjallbacka, she had moved to Graskar Island, known locally as Ghost Island. The investigation is thoughtfully managed and starts to focus on the event that preceded Mats return to Fjallbacka and when separate investigation in Stockholm starts to intersect with the one in Fjallbacka the satisfying sour conclusion is arrived at.
The plot mechanics of the main story are impressive, the reveals are carefully set up to hide as much as they show and the story moves in wonderful directions before convincingly coming back to a bitingly credible conclusion. The very large cast are energetic and full of life, Camilla Lackberg has a tremendous gift for concisely introducing and then developing her cast. She does not depend too much on continuity to support the series regular cast, they are given the space and time to make a full impression on any reader who is coming to this book cold. One of the very nice things about the book is the way that a genre staple, the incompetent police chief, is given significantly greater depth and humanity than usual. He may be incompetent, impulsive and largely lacking insifgt or foresight, he is also loving and vibrantly alive.
Critically this is a story about a number of relationships, some of which end with violent death, others of which are savagely damaged by past events and others of which are resilient and positive.
What makes The Lost Child somewhat strange are the ways that these relationships, some of which have a direct link to the major story line, some of which are essentially completely independent, are handled. There is an inescapable of judgement, harsh judgement, in the way some of these relationships are played out. Camilla Lackberg has a sharp and deeply critical eye of character weakness that leads to terrible decisions, the results of those decisions are never managed with forgiveness, grim justice is delivered to punish the weakness that lead to bad actions. It is weakness that is punished rather than deliberate malice, while that does get some measure of punishment. the greater load is carried by the weak.
While egotistical self importance does get a savage comeuppance, it is the more subtle weakness of the heart and mind that get the harshest weighting in the balance and the heaviest punishment. The weakness are not trivial, nor are the results of those weaknesses, still there is a steely lack of compassion in their treatment that is striking. There is a slight element of the supernatural in the story, Ghost Island has earned its name and it is used with care and subtle emphasis that never distracts from the harsh reality of the events.
Tina Nunnally translation is transparent, there is no sense that this story is anything less than entirely Swedish in its context, cast or atmosphere nor is there any sense that it was not in fact written directly in English. The translation allows the cast and the story emerge completely and forcefully.

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