The Gallow's Bird by Camilla Lackberg
The fact that a reality television show features in Camilla Lackberg's mesmerising new novel will mean little to New Zealand readers of this best-selling Nordic writer, but her fellow Swedes might discern a little score-settling. Lackberg was the subject of much unwanted attention when the details of her divorce became headline news in Sweden. The most infinitesimal details of her private life became a matter of public interest, so when she began a relationship with a man also very well known in Sweden (a policeman who was the first winner of the Swedish version of the reality show Survivor), the scrutiny was ratcheted up to an even higher level.
The important thing about Lackberg is the remarkable success her moody crime novels enjoy in Europe, where she outsells John Grisham.
In all her work, Lackberg examines her own sense of identity - as a writer and as a Swede. She is Scandinavian, but her literary template and spiritual home is the cloistered English town as evoked in Agatha Christie's St Mary Mead; large cosmopolitan cities have no appeal for her. The vagaries of human nature are her palette, in all their aspects.
The Gallows Bird is the fourth entry in Lackberg's Fjallbacka series. A car crash in Tanumshede initially appears to be a simple accident, but a second, similar accident has Detective Patrick Hedstrom wondering if the victims in both had been murdered. At the same time, Tanumshede is in something of a turmoil because of a reality TV show which is being produced locally.
The frenzied attention given to the five-minutes-of-fame stars has Hedstrom beginning to suspect the killer is connected with the phenomenon. The detective's private life is distinctly unsettled, as he is tackling the problems of his forthcoming marriage to the writer Erica Falck (the couple are the central characters in Lackberg's sequence); problems are sidelined when a chaotic alcohol-fuelled party ends with the death of an unpopular contestant on the TV show.
As with earlier books (ably translated by Steven T Murray), there is an adroit manipulation of elements: unpredictable plotting, a striking evocation of life in this idyllic but flawed community and - perhaps most satisfying - the intriguing interaction between Patrick and Erica, both loving and fractious.
It's Lackberg's skill to have created two of the most fully rounded characters in contemporary crime fiction, with a warmth that cuts through the Nordic chill.
Her publishers are hoping to create for Lackberg the success in English translation that she enjoys on her native soil and in Germany. The Gallows Bird may be the book to pull off that particular coup, though addicts of reality TV may not be the target readership.