Lackberg, Camilla – ‘The Hidden Child’ (translated by Tiina Nunnally)
Paperback: 400 pages (June 2011) Publisher: Harper ISBN: 000741949X
At the end of THE GALLOWS BIRD, young mother and author Erica Falk discovers a trunk in the attic containing a Nazi medal, a stained baby’s shirt and some old diaries. THE HIDDEN CHILD is the story of the discoveries Erica makes about her mother’s past by reading these diaries and struggling to find out the significance of the objects. She’s supposed to be writing her next “true crime” book, as she’s just swapped parental leave responsibilities with her husband, police detective Patrik Hedstrom. There is plenty of byplay at the start of the novel as Patrick fails to “get” what is actually involved with looking after a one-year-old, and also cannot resist poking his nose into the investigation of the death of an old man which his colleagues are undertaking, baby in tow.
Erica gets pretty frustrated with Patrik, not least when he meets his ex-wife who herself is struggling to look after her young son while her new husband, a racing driver, is away. She’s also distracted from her work by her nervous need to find out more about her mother’s past, as the warm young girl who wrote the few diaries in Erica’s possession is very different from the cold parent that Erica knew.
Camilla Lackberg knows how to tell a good story, and THE HIDDEN CHILD is to my mind the best book in this series since the first, THE ICE PRINCESS. I think this is partly because Erica’s uncovering of her mother’s past is directly related to the contemporary case being investigated by the police, which provides the book with more focus than some of the previous titles. Furthermore, the mystery is a good, solid one – I did guess the outlines of the solution just before the author revealed them, but only just. The domestic lives of Erica and Patrik, as well as Erica’s sister Anna and her new partner Dan are also well-portrayed as Anna tries to come to terms with an exceptionally recalcitrant teenage stepdaughter and Erica discovers more about the tragedy of her mother’s past – and comes to realise the origin of her own name, perhaps. In addition, the lives of Patrick’s police colleagues come into the fore, with Gosta seeming to be a little more sensitive than his previous golfing obsession would suggest, and Melberg once again revealing a soft heart under his blustering exterior in an amusing subplot.
The novel is extremely well translated by Tiina Nunnally, whose husband Steven T Murray has translated the previous novels. My only quibble is that far too many characters wink at each other – is this a Swedish habit? Anyway, less winking would be a great improvement. One aspect of this novel that I like very much is that when characters are nice, it pays dividends, as repeatedly shown by Erica’s, Anna’s, Dan’s and Patrik’s actions, as well as by the police characters. If Erica and co were less generous, they would not get anything like as far in their investigations.