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'The Hidden Child' by Camilla Läckberg: Noir and more

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The Hidden Child by Camilla Läckberg

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Nordic noir has become a genuine generic global phenomenon, especially since the huge success of Steig Larsson's "Dragon Tattoo" trilogy; and the novels of Camilla Läckberg, author of "The Hidden Child," have been assigned, quite naturally, to that generic group.

But this novel is noir and more. To be sure, it shares many of the characteristics of its "stable mates": Swedish setting; characters with terrible secrets in their respective pasts; direct, non-metaphorical (almost anti-metaphorical) language; cleverly contrived mysteries; the police procedural plot device; and, perhaps most characteristically, the dark, desolate, ugly mood -- the doom that hangs over and bedevils many of the main characters, the cloud that has formed from those horrible hidden events of the past, a cloud which constantly threatens to explode in a thunderous storm of destruction. And finally, the ever-present Nazis of the past and neo-Nazis of the present.

It's all here. The plot consists primarily of two interwoven family-and-friends stories. The first takes place (mostly) in the years 1943 and 1945, and involves close teenage friends in a small town in Sweden.

Elsy is a lovely, warm and affectionate fifteen-year-old; Britta is a teenage flirt, a rather shallow but pretty girl; Eric is a semi-dull but also semi-charming history bookworm; Frans is a handsome, temperamental -- almost explosive -- Nazi-leaning son of the aristocracy. And there are two more important World War II figures: Eric's older brother Axel, who heroically passes messages to Norwegian resistance fighters; and, a bit later, Hans, a young Norwegian who has escaped from Nazi-dominated Norway. Teenage crushes and conflicts abound.

The other plot thread takes place in the present day. It features, on the one hand, the group described above, now old (or deceased) men and women, and their adult children, children's spouses, and grandchildren. One of that old group is murdered. Then another. And virtually all of the characters, now including the small town's police force, become involved in attempting to solve the murders.

It's a gripping story. Every character -- and there are many -- is extraordinarily delineated. Every one is believable and sympathetic. Even the comic relief, the bumbling, insecure, self-congratulating, semi-obese chief of police, grows and changes as the story progresses.

But here's the best part: Amidst all the darkness, gloom and cruelty, and the suffocating aura of doom, a funny thing happens on the way to the dank. Love emerges -- and triumphs. Somehow we realize that Läckberg has rather miraculously pulled off a literary magician's trick. She has shown us that even in the worst times and conditions, the ability to love not only makes us stronger, it makes us satisfied and content.

So we know that the last words of the novel, the words of a broken person, are actually the author's ironic comment, the summation of the realization of all the living characters: "...if you didn't allow yourself to love, you didn't risk losing everything," she says. But what Läckberg is really saying is ... if you didn't allow yourself to love, you had nothing to lose because you had nothing at all. And THAT is the real tragedy.

Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by Pegasus Crime for review purposes.

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