Swedish publishing phenom Läckberg returns to the ill-starred town of Fjällbacka for another dose of resentment that festers into violence.
Now that his live-in girlfriend, writer Erica Falck, has presented him with a child, Patrik Hedström ought to be finding a better balance between his personal and professional responsibilities. But his sympathies as both father and cop are demanded by the murder of Sara Klinga, the daughter of Erica’s new friend Charlotte. Who would dump a seven-year-old near a wharf after drowning her, according to forensic evidence, in a bathtub? As Patrik surveys the wreckage of Sara’s extended family, from the pathological philandering of Charlotte’s husband, Dr. Niclas Klinga, to the unaccountable cruelty of Niclas’ mother Lilian Florin, whose name Niclas rejected in favor of his wife’s upon his marriage, Läckberg (The Ice Princess, 2010, etc.) parcels out hints of the tragedy’s roots in the loveless marriage some 75 years ago between flirtatious heiress Agnes Stjernkvist and Anders Andersson, the stonecutter she’d captivated and planned to leave before her father discovered her pregnancy and forced the couple to wed. Meanwhile, back in the present, Patrik and his mostly incompetent colleagues on the Tanumshede police force focus their suspicions on imperious Lilian, who seems to loathe everyone but Stig, the bedridden husband she nurses so assiduously; Kaj Wiberg, the neighbor with whom she’s long feuded over every pretext she can find; and Kaj’s son Morgan, a computer game designer with Asperger’s Syndrome who’d be poorly equipped to take the air even in a much sunnier spot than Fjällbacka.
Yes, the detection is forgettable (Patrick solves the mystery by watching a similar case on TV) and the climactic revelation unsurprising. Läckberg’s greatest strength is dramatizing the long shadows of family troubles that grow to monstrous size.