Cover image of "The Preacher" by Camilla Lackberg, an example of Swedish noir

It’s a sweltering summer on the coast of Sweden, and Erica Falck is suffering mightily under the weight and anxiety of eight months of pregnancy. Her partner, Detective Patrik Hedström, has taken a vacation in hopes of supporting her as best he can at home. Then Patrik is called in to head up a deeply puzzling murder mystery. The nude body of a woman in her late teens has been discovered lying in the open in a spot frequented by tourists. Beneath her tortured corpse lie two skeletons, each suspected to be the victim of a similar murder 24 years earlier.

A classic setup for Swedish noir: a seemingly impossible case

First, the three women need to be identified. If Patrik and his colleagues in the police manage to determine that the two skeletons belong to the teenage women gone missing two decades ago, then a bigger challenge arises: how to link the latest murder with the earlier ones.

The Preacher (Fjällbacka #2) by Camilla Läckberg (2004) 436 pages ★★★★★ 

Complicating the case is Patrik’s position in the police force. He’s in his mid-30s. Though the chief has placed him in charge of the investigation, he needs to rely on two much older detectives. One of them is nearing retirement and seems to care only about golf. The other is a bully who deeply resents having to report to Patrik; he’s lazy, too, and has a tendency to cut corners at very disadvantageous times. And their boss, Chief Mellberg, is almost never willing to lift a finger in an investigation, though he’s always eager to take credit with his superiors and the press once the case is solved.

There are only two others in the small rural department whom Patrik can rely on: an ambitious younger detective who has great respect for Patrik, and the receptionist, who is far more intelligent than her job requires and whose role in the station has expanded accordingly.

Family dynamics are the key to this thriller

Even before the three bodies have been positively identified, Patrik finds his suspicions centering on the Hult family. The family’s patriarch, now deceased, was the Preacher of the book’s title. He was a Bible-thumping fundamentalist minister who claimed that his young boys could heal with their hands. One of the boys grew  up rejecting his father and the religion he preached. The other, much closer to his father, committed suicide shortly after the two young women went missing. He is widely suspected to have murdered them.

Under the circumstances, the Preacher, Ephraim Hult, changed his will to favor Gabriel, the older brother, since the younger one had died. Now Gabriel and his family live in luxury in the villa the Preacher inherited from a grateful parishioner, while his brother’s surviving family, his widow and two sons in their 30s, live in abject poverty. Understandably, currents of conflict run in several directions through this complicated family. Patrik’s challenge is to navigate through these conflicts and find out the truth about the murders of the three young women.

The Preacher is a superior example of Swedish noir. The characters are all too human, the plot complex and unpredictable, and the suspense builds steadily to a surprising conclusion.

About the author

Camilla Läckberg has reportedly earned more money from her books than any other native author in Swedish history. She is just 42 years old. Her first book, The Ice Princess, was published only in 2003 after she left a career as an economist. The Preacher, her 14th novel, is the second in her bestselling series of Swedish detective novels set in the small coastal town of Fjällbacka.

You’ll find the other Patrik Hedstrøm and Ericka Falck mysteries here, linked to my reviews: The Fjällbacka series of Swedish thrillers from Camilla Läckberg.

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