Pegasus Crime, 400 pages, $25.95 (c2008, US ed. 2015)
Translated from Swedish by Tiina Nunnally
The title should have been “Babies R Us.” True crime writer Erica Falck, the series’ heroine, is (very) pregnant with twins. Nevertheless, she pokes her nose into the mystery currently occupying her husband, police detective Patrik Hedström. Patrik’s small police department is overrun by talk of babies, so he finds no relief there. For instance, Patrik’s gaga and ineffectual boss proves to be gaga over his grandchild and strangely effective at taking care of him. Not only are department personnel drowning in babies, but people involved in their new cases of a missing person and poisoned pen letters also have children.
In the small town of Fjällbacka, Sweden, Magnus Kjellner (father of two) has been reported missing by his frantic wife. No amount of investigation turns up any clue, and the case languishes. In the meantime, Christian Thydell (father of two), a local author and Erica’s protégé, has been receiving threatening letters. Christian and Magnus are friends, so are the two cases related? Christian wants to make light of the notes and is appalled when they generate publicity. His publisher is delighted, however, because Christian’s debut book has been receiving glowing reviews and now has free publicity to push it along.
Although Christian is reluctant to pursue his poisoned pen notes, Erica is determined to “help” him. And to help Patrik as well, whether he wants it or not. Events escalate to involve a couple more of Christian and Magnus’s friends (a couple more children). All deny they know an underlying cause, but (hah!) of course there is one. There are many references to people reading notes or hearing about past events, but we readers are kept in the literary dark. I found this annoying. For example, when Erica hears a story, I want to hear what that story is, and not have to wait until the end of the book for the big reveal. Läckberg pulls that once too often: A character hears or reads something revealing, but we are clueless.
Läckberg does well with her depictions of women. The wives of the four friends are different and deal with adversity differently. Erika, for all her unwanted amateur prodding, apparently can charm people into giving up their deep secrets. Her sister, Anna (also pregnant), is a warm character who is finally in a good place (see other books in the series).
There are a lot of characters that Läckberg has to juggle in this tale of revenge: the police personnel and their families, Erica’s family, the four friends and their families and work colleagues, plus various witnesses and bystanders. It’s a soap opera of crime, with ongoing sob stories of the continuing characters. And it is this last bit that makes Läckberg so popular. She knows how to make people want to know more about them.
“The Drowning” is the sixth in the series to be translated into English.