Review: The Drowning by Camilla Lackberg

THE DROWNING is the sixth book depicting life and death in Fjällbacka, Sweden’s answer to Cabot Cove or the villages of Midsomer. Its prologue features a description of a man’s death and the story proper then opens with police detective Patrik Hedström and his colleagues searching for Magnus Kjellner who has been missing for some months and whose wife visits the police station weekly to ask for updates. But no one, least of all Läckberg, seems terribly concerned about the man’s disappearance. There are, after all, pregnancies, nappies, parenting leave, pregnancies and other domesticity to discuss. At length.

We are also introduced to Christian Thydell, a local resident and debut author who has been receiving anonymous and threatening letters for some time. He has kept these a secret even from his wife but makes the mistake of mentioning them to his mentor and fellow author Erica Falck. She tells her husband, the aforementioned police detective, and their shared publisher with the result that every man and his dog is soon aware of Christian’s problems. Eventually links are made between Christian’s story and the missing man’s but it seems to take the Fjällbacka police a lot longer than it will take the average reader to work this all out.

These stories are intertwined with flashbacks to the life of a troubled young boy who was orphaned, fostered, bullied and almost responsible for the death of his sibling. Again, the connections seemed fairly obvious but this part of the book was in some ways the most successful for me as the characters in it at least felt like their creator was interested in what was happening to them. With the contemporary story I didn’t get much sense at all that the author really cared about the characters. At least that’s my interpretation of their collective insipidness.

I was going to try to be polite about the book because, on one level, it’s a perfectly competent cosy mystery. There’s oodles of domesticity, a straightforward whodunnit and the inevitable cliffhanger ending that gives the book something of a soap-opera feel. My problem is, I suppose, that the books are marketed as psychological thrillers or suspense novels and this one at least is nothing of the kind. Partly this is because the day-to-day lives of the series’ continuing characters occupy more time than the actual mystery despite the fact that nothing terribly new is happening to any of them. All the ones who are pregnant have been pregnant before and, honestly, there is a limit to how many discussions about how to fit parenting leave into their lives I am interested in (for the record that limit was probably reached about half-way through the previous book in this series). The endless consumption of buns with or without coffee, the repetition of jibes about Erica eating for two (she is pregnant with twins which I don’t count as a spoiler as it is revealed very early on) and being unable to stand up on her own whenever she sits down grew tiresome.

Perhaps if the mystery story had been stronger I’d have felt differently about this book but I thought the plot fairly obvious and it didn’t seem to tackle anything new either. In most of her previous books the mysteries have delved into an interesting area, such as THE HIDDEN CHILD‘s exploration of nazism in Sweden in both historical and contemporary times. Here a cast of insipid characters strolled through a story that expressed mild rebuke at poor parenting – a topic Lackberg has address in earlier novels (with better results). The psychological twist in the resolution was both predictable and unconvincing.

To me THE DROWNING feels like a book churned out to formula and it verged on treating its readers like idiots. At one point early on for example Patrik, who has been described as turning Magnus Kjellner’s life inside out in the period before the book opens, has a conversation with the man’s wife asking who his friends were. Surely this would have come up somwhere in the three months of exhaustive searching for the man? Especially as he only had three?

In its favour the book did pick up towards the end with the last third having a decent pacing and I did, as always, enjoy the narration of the audio version by Eamon Riley (in fact I’m not sure I’d have bothered finishing the book if I’d been reading it in print). Having enjoyed this author’s previous books I will give the next one a go on the grounds this could be an aberration. But the quality will have to be substantially improved if I’m not to consign this series to the “once good, now formulaic” list that so many other long-running authors have been added to.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

I have reviewed the earlier novels in this series The Ice Princess, The Preacher, The Stonecutter, The Gallows Bird and The Hidden Child

In the interests of fairness there are far more glowing reviews of this book at Bookish Magpie, TheBronteSister,

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
My rating 2.5/5
Translator Tiina Nunnally
Narrator Eamonn Riley
Publisher Harper Collins Audio [2012]
Length 15 hours 28 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series #6 in the Erica Falck/Patrik Hedström series
Source I bought it
Creative Commons Licence
This work by is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

This entry was posted in book review, Camilla Lackberg, Sweden. Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Review: The Drowning by Camilla Lackberg

  1. Maxine says:

    I’ve only skimmed your review, Bernadette, as I haven’t read this one yet (some delay in arrival it seems). I am sorry you didn’t like it. I have enjoyed this series so far, apart from the historical flashback sections in The Stone Cutter which seemed oversimplistic to me in the same sense as the historical “Wild West” sections of Mankell’s The Man From Beijing. They seem to come out of a children’s book. Apart from that, I have rather liked the Lackberg series, though I think the first, The Ice Princess, was edgier and better – presumably written before the author decided to veer off into this domestic route. Some of the emotional insights have punch, for example the depiction of post-natal depression in one of the earlier ones was pretty spot-on. And not a theme you get often in crime fiction. I will try The Drowning but won’t have high expectations.

    Re your comment at FF about the cover pic- I was puzzled at the cover of an earlier Lackberg, with a picture of a trainer on a road. Could not work out what that was about, either. (or even what the title meant, The Gallows Bird, no apostrophe).


  2. I am almost relieved to see I am not the only one who got more than enough of nappies in this one. I was very impressed by “The Ice Princess” (a very promising debut), but it didn´t take long for Läckberg to slip into a formula which is quite okay, but as you say, she should be marketed as cosy mystery or something similar. And I find it difficult to blame male reviewers who talk about lipstick literature. Women´s issues are just as important and relevant as men´s car chases, but there is no excuse for endless repetition.


    • the book has a much better title and cover in your version Dorte – no wonder your review didn’t come up when I did my search. Can’t fathom why they made the changes


  3. Margot Kinberg says:

    Bernadette – There is always a balance I think between domestic scenes that add depths to a character and having those scenes crowd out the plot of the story. I admit I haven’t read this one yet, but I am sorry to see the series take this direction if it’s going to do that. I liked the characters thus far and the mysteries kept me reading. I’d hate to have to give up on this series, but maybe I’ll wait to read this one…


  4. Sarah says:

    I enjoyed this book but perhaps not as much as her previous ones. I found the ending to be very formulaic and it will be interesting to see how the series develops. I don’t have a problem per se with domestic details, although I find Erica’s involvement in police cases a bit perplexing.


    • Lumi says:

      @Sarah – I have the exact same feeling! I love Erica and Patrik, but somehow I don’t see how she can be so nosy when it comes to killers and weird circumstances.


  5. Thanks for mentioning my review! Interestingly, both Bookish Magpie and I had never read any other books by Lackberg, but we both thoroughly enjoyed reading this one. I’ve also lent my copy to two friends who had also never read any Lackberg, and they also loved the book. Yet everyone I speak to who has read the series seems to have been a little disappointed with this one. It does suggest that the author has settled into a comfortable formula rather than trying something new, but I’m keen to get my hands on the first book in the series to decide for myself!


  6. Kathy D. says:

    Gosh, am I not taking my vitamins or missing something here? I can’t get into this series. I tried with The Ice Princess, but frankly felt like I was reading a fifth-grade reading lesson. There wasn’t anything to grab me and pull me in. I seem to be in the minority here among Nordics’ readers, but I haven’t been inspired here and the one I tried was a DNF.


  7. Amanda Mac says:

    Oh dear, the reviews don’t have me champing at the bit to read this one. Is it a case of too much, too soon with Camilla’s series? Is she dictated by publisher’s deadlines and not by her writing talent? Such a shame, but perhaps Erika and Patrick have passed their use by date?


    • I did wonder that myself Amanda – I think I have read 4 of these in the past 12 months which is a much higher rate than I would normally read series books for the very reason that familiarity breeds contempt. I think they have all been published quite quickly in English to catch up to her Swedish schedule (not of course to cash in on any popularity associated with Scandi crime) and I’m not convinced this has served her well


  8. Julie Innes says:

    Just finished The Drowning, I am going to go nuts waiting for The Lighthouse, I have to wait until Spring 2013, what has happened to the women in the car crash, someone tell me please.


    • Sorry I think that’s one of those loose ends some authors like. I have assumed those two gals are squished but I suspect we’ll never find out


    • Margo says:

      Yes Julie, I have to agree,I was so upset with the ending and now wonder also do they all die.Excellent book, I couldnt put it down, but shocked by the ending. Im still gob smacked. I give her a 10/10, being the first of her novels, I will be reading more.


      • margaret glover says:

        i am also desperate to find out if this was anna erica and their babies and also how is patrick.we have become fond of thm.they cannot all day or i wnt want to read any more


        • nancy says:

          Hopefully the series is not finished. I have read all her books in order and when the ending came I was disappointed, wondering who were the women in the car and is Patrick ok


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