Patrick Hedstrom and Erika Falck live with their daughter Maja in a quiet village in Sweden. The peaceful atmosphere of Fjallbacka is shattered one day when a murder victim is discovered by two young boys. Patrick works for the police department investigating the case, but he is on paternity leave. Coincidentally, Erika finds that she is acquainted with the victim, Erik Frankel, a quiet, retired history professor with a special interest in World War II. Erika had recently discovered some of her mother’s possessions and diaries and determined to unearth the secrets of her mother’s past, she brought the Nazi medal she found to Erik, hoping he could identify it. As she uncovers her mother’s previous life, and as the investigation unfolds, many secrets will be unearthed connecting the past to the present .
Part of the story takes place in 1943, at the time of World War II. Although Sweden is not occupied, German troops are in control in nearby Norway. Some brave men are engaged in an effort to smuggle people out of that country. Elof, Erika’s father, is one of those men. It is a terrible time, a time when madness reigns and men are sometimes driven mad by what they see and experience.
As the story unfolds, the reader learns that Erika’s mother was once a young and carefree girl, part of a close group of friends. There were five of them, four were childhood friends: Elsy Mostrom, Erika’s mom, Frans Ringholm, whose father is a hateful man, Erik Frankel who had an older brother Axel, a Nazi hunter, Elsy’s girlfriend Britta, a bit of a flirt, and Hans, a young man who came late to the group. Hans suddenly appeared as a stowaway on Elsy’s father’s boat, in 1944, and is subsequently sheltered by her family. He had escaped from Norway. Frans, Erik and Axel come from the better side of town and Elsy and Britta from the poorer side. All kinds of prejudice existed at the time, and their different social class makes their friendship unusual. How they all fit into the present day murder mystery that Patrick is quasi involved in investigating, and Erika becomes drawn into as she investigates her mom’s past, is neatly knitted into the story. Without Erika’s insight and Patrick’s expertise, the police force is portrayed as a bit inept, haphazardly handling the investigation. However, the characters all grow into their jobs and their lives, admirably, as time passes.
I enjoyed the writing style of this author and didn’t want the book to end too quickly. Although it is part of a series, it stands well on its own. Erika and Patrick are characters that endeared themselves to me. So many of the quirky characters were charming and the dialog between the characters felt so natural and real with their honest expression of feelings and the injection of humor into their conversations, that I felt like I was a fly on the wall, listening in and watching the scenes unfold in real time. Although there were many unlikely coincidences, they were handled deftly by the author, woven so smoothly into the tale, they just naturally seemed to fall into place. I enjoyed the way the plot twisted and turned and kept me guessing as the mystery unfolded. It was a pleasure watching the characters grow and behave as I would have expected normal people to in real life, not stilted in any way, like watching Martin, a detective, grow into his investigator’s job and gain confidence, and watching the Chief, Bertil Mellberg, as he becomes caregiver to a charming dog named Ernst and falls in love with a salsa dancer, and observing him as he softens into a more loveable character as time goes on, although watching Patrick engage in a friendly relationship with his ex-wife stretched my imagination a bit. I was engaged by all of the characters, complete with the dog, and although some were not very likeable, all were simply human beings behaving as humans do, subject to their follies and foibles, subject to the realities of life, to its unexpected fortunes and misfortunes, compassion and malevolence.
I did find it a little contrived throughout the book because practically every societal issue arose in one form or another. Every character had some kind of an issue from sexual to domestic abuse, infidelity to divorce, gender issues to prejudice encompassing sexual preference, class and ethnic purity, from immaturity to insecurity, and it covered family relationships and dysfunction in all its forms. Still, each incident felt that it was true to form in the way that it was exposed.
If you like a good murder mystery steeped in historic fiction and flavored with romance in its many forms, this book is surely for you. This author has a gift. She makes even the goriest of scenes easy to read because they play out with realistic description rather than sensational explanation meant simply to arouse the reader. There s a lightness, a friendliness, kind of a comfort zone feeling in her words and presentation. She is never crass.
And as a yummy aside, like Erika, I love chocolate caramels and I ate them right along with her! To chocolate covered caramels, long may they live!