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the preacher

9 may 2012

I wasn't crazy about Camilla Läckberg's Ice Princess, but everything's relative; an indifferent crime novel usually trumps more scintillating exemplars of other genres for me, especially when it comes to what to read on an airplane. So I was more than happy to pick up The Preacher in paperback form in my local supermarket, and catch up on the murderous denizens of sleepy little seaside Fjällbacka.

There hadn't been any murderers in Fjällbacka in ages, until The Ice Princess kicked in; but with The Preacher, the toll mounts so precipitously that the locals begin to fear for their tourist industry. As is the wont in isolated Swedish murder-mystery communities, present killings are interwoven with sinister slaughters past. Specifically, the body of a young German woman is found, with evidence that she's been terribly tortured before dying. This is bad enough, except that her remains are found on top of those of two women killed the same way – two decades before. And more women keep disappearing . . .

The title The Preacher might encourage one to suspect a preacher of these grisly crimes. Such indirection as there is comes from the proliferation of preachers in Fjällbacka. A long-deceased character named Ephraim is the patriarch of a preacher-packed family that includes Ephraim's equally deceased son Johannes, and Johannes's pious nephew Jacob. With murders spanning generations, and preachers abounding in each generation, there are too many suspects for the various spates of crime – and in a Krimi, that's the way it should be.

In The Ice Princess, the focus was on Erica, writer and amateur sleuth. In The Preacher, our protagonist is the detective Patrik, now Erica's husband. Läckberg's narration splits its focus over a wide cast of characters, mostly identified by somewhat generic given names that become hard to remember. But with a little reminding – maybe with pencil and stickynote at hand? – it's not that hard to tell the players apart.

A greater flaw in The Preacher is the contrivance that leads Patrik to the solution. With an entire extended family under suspicion, we have to wait to prise apart the DNA evidence. Patrik's lab appears to work one suspect at a time, and much more slowly than even the leisurely killer can kill. You see the twist in the evidence coming a long way off, and it's frankly more science fiction than Swedish Krimi.

But what can I say? Again, as with the flawed Ice Princess, there's something charming about Läckberg's prose (as rendered by Steven Murray), and something disarming about her sense of humor (here revealed mainly in the way the pregnant Erica becomes increasingly fed up with a string of unbearable houseguests). I'll read the next Fjällbacka novel to appear in a language near me, for sure.

Läckberg, Camilla. The Preacher. [Predikanten, 2004.] Translated by Steven T. Murray. 2009. New York: Pocket Star [Simon & Schuster], 2012.