A Nazi medal in Sweden triggers a journey into the past

Nazi medalThe Hidden Child (Patrik Hedström and Erica Falck #5), by Camilla Läckberg

@@@@ (4 out of 5)

Once upon a time French classicists derived the principles of drama from Aristotle’s Poetics, proclaiming the “three unities.” This restrictive concept required that a play depict only a single action that takes place in a single location within a single day. These rules didn’t last long. But modern crime novelists sometimes inadvertently mimic them. They tell stories in which “something happens,” and not much else. They write about a single case and its solution by one or more investigators. Other characters, and other events, serve primarily as background to make the tale more believable. The bestselling Swedish detective novelist Camilla Läckberg does not write books that way. A case in point is The Hidden Child, the fifth in her series of novels featuring small-town police detective Patrik Hedström and his wife, Erica Falck, who writes popular true-crime books.

What sets off Läckberg’s work from that of so many other crime novelists is the sheer complexity of her plots and the large number of well-defined characters that appear in her stories. What’s more, many of those characters, even some incidental to the principal plot, learn and grow in the course of the book. “Something happens” to each of them. In The Hidden Child, Patrik and Erica are both central to the story. Their lives are eventful, and they gain new insight from what they’re experiencing. But that’s also true of many of their colleagues, family, and friends, as well as a number of characters who play roles in the case that brings them all together. And Läckberg’s account of the case rockets back and forth from the present day to 1944 and 1945, when circumstances set in motion a tragic course of events that lead to latter-day murders.

To oversimplify the story, Erica discovers a World War II Nazi medal among the few items that remain from the life of her mother, who died in an automobile crash four years earlier. While she succumbs to curiosity and sets out to learn how and why that medal came into her mother’s possession, Patrik becomes independently involved in helping his colleagues in the police investigate the brutal murder of the old man to whom Erica turned for information about the Nazi medal. (He was an historian and a collector of Nazi artifacts.) Meanwhile, Patrik’s insufferable boss, Mellberg, becomes involved in an affair that—finally, for the first time in the series—proves that he isn’t just stupid, lazy, and self-important (although he is all of those things.) Lots else happens, too. Lots. Yet I didn’t often find it necessary to turn back to earlier pages to sort out the identity of the other characters, each of them with their own storyline.

Camilla Läckberg is a very talented writer. The Hidden Child is a superior piece of work—suspenseful, captivating, and believable.

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Mal Warwick