Lackberg, Camilla - 'The Drowning' (translated by Tiina Nunnally)
THE DROWNING could have been a great little crime novel. At 500 pages, however, it becomes boringly repetitive for a long stretch in the middle after a good start and a somewhat hasty, but at least relatively fast-moving, final section and cliffhanger ending.
The basic story involves four male friends, one of whom, Christian, has just written a debut novel which looks set for greatness and another of whom, Magnus, has vanished three months before the book begins - he has been murdered (the reader knows this because of a prologue). When Magnus's body is found, an investigation begins, led by Patrik Hedstrom of the Fjallbacka police.
Three of the four friends have been receiving threatening letters over a period of time, but won't tell their wives or the police about it. Two of the men have boilerplate happy marriages; two of them have boilerplate miserable ones. For 150 pages, it is interesting to read about the set-up, but after this time, there is nothing much to add, particularly as the reader knows more than the police about what is going on due to regular flashback sequences in italic type. It is simply a question of waiting to be told why the men act as if they have a guilty secret, who is writing the letters, and hence who is committing the crimes and why (if the reader has not worked it out already, that is).
Part of the book is devoted to the domestic concerns of Patrik's wife Erica and her sister Anna. Erica is an established author and has been helping Christian to get his book published. While she is waiting to give birth to twins, she decides to investigate the case on her own. An example of the level at which the book is written comes about half-way through, when Erica decides to try to find out what everyone wants to know but cannot find out - what was Christian's past life before he appeared in Fjallbacka? The reader is simply told that after "talking to about four people", Erica discovers where Christian lived previously, with no information about how she came by the information - hence she beats the police to finding an important clue.
At its heart, there is a good mystery story in THE DROWNING, which is well-translated by the excellent Tiina Nunnally. If the book had been 250 pages long I would have thoroughly enjoyed it, as the author has an accessible, friendly style of writing and her characters (the police and Erica's circle) are potentially interesting. But the thin plot simply cannot bear 500 pages; I became bored with repeated descriptions of drunk, grieving, ill or dissatisfied wives; tensely secretive husbands; the cartoon horrible mad mother/neglected son in the too-many flashback sequences; and the failed efforts of the police to find out any information until the last tenth of the book, when all suddenly falls into place for no particular reason apart from someone finally looking up some records. On balance, THE DROWNING is more for those who enjoy slice-of-life tales than for those who prefer crime novels.
Read another review of THE DROWNING.
Maxine Clarke, England