Monday, 19 February 2018

Emma's Review: The Girl in the Woods by Camilla Lackberg

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

A missing child
When a four-year-old girl disappears in the woods just outside Fjällbacka, the community is horror-struck. Thirty years ago, a young girl went missing from the exact same spot, and was later discovered, murdered.

A murder
Back then, two teenage girls were found guilty of the killing. Could it really be a coincidence that one of the girls – now a world-famous actress – has just returned to Fjällbacka? Detective Patrik Hedström starts investigating, with his wife, bestselling crime writer Erica Falck, by his side.

A community torn apart
But as Patrik and Erica dig deeper, the truth becomes ever murkier, because it seems that everyone in the tight-knit community is hiding something. And soon, the residents must confront the fact that they could be harbouring a murderer in their midst…

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Many thanks to Harper Collins UK for my copy of The Girl in the Woods to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.

The number of crime thrillers I read are very few and far between, I know the genres I enjoy reading and tend to stick to them. I'd go as far to say I am very selective in what I read in the thriller genre as it wouldn't be my first port of call when choosing my next read but I drop everything when it comes to a new book from the incredible writer that is Camilla Lackberg. This new novel The Girl in the Woods is the tenth in the Fjallbacka series featuring true crime author Erica Falck and her detective husband Patrik Helstrom. It feels like the gaps between the appearance of each new book in the series have grown wider in recent years but that makes the publication of a new story all the more special. The books become a real treat to savour for as long as possible. This is something which I find hard to do given how much I love this series as once I begin I literally can't put down the book until I have discovered the eventual outcome - who did it and why? The Girl in the Woods is definitely what we would call a real page turner, you promise yourself one more chapter and then found you have read 100 pages or more. This book was quite long and there were certain parts I felt could have been narrowed down slightly but apart from that I loved every moment of this read. I desperately wanted to know the motivation for the killing of such a young innocent girl.

What is so brilliant about Camilla Lackberg's books is that, yes there is a murder to be solved but that alongside this there are always little sub plots working away in the background. Some may be a continuation from previous stories of which I have been desperate to find out more, others are new strands that may eventually tie in with the murder. One thing is certain the major event that triggers an investigation is never clear cut. There is a lot of wading through finer detail and joining the dots that at first may not be apparent to either the police force or the detectives. That's what makes me enjoy this series so much as I never 100% know who actually did it. You have your suspicions the whole way through the book but they can change multiple times. That's in thanks to the way the author leads you up one path only for it to be a dead end. One minute she has you certain that who we are reading about is more than likely the killer but then a few pages later there are doubts emerging, given what you have just read about another character. The element of mystery abounds right until the final few chapters and I enjoy having one pulled over my eyes. The tension, suspicion and intrigue increases with the passing of each chapter and frustratingly they always end on a cliffhanger and it might be several chapters before we come back to that character to see what they may have uncovered. That for me is what adds to the real page turning element of the story.

The focus of this story is the disappearance and subsequent discovery of the body of a four year old girl Nea Berg. She was found quite close to the home in the woods of her family -  Eva and Peter Berg. But what upsets the community most is the more than passing resemblance to a case over thirty years ago. Has the same killer struck again? The person who in 1985 murdered a beautiful little girl called Stella quite close to the sit of the discovery of Nea's body? The story takes us back and forth through three time periods, July 1985 and the following months as the case is attempted to be solved. Modern day where Patrik and the police force try to work out what happened and is it connected to sinister goings on within their small community but also every few chapters we are taken back to Bohuslan in 1671 as follow Elin Jonsdotter whose husband was lost at sea. She and her daughter were sent to live with her sister and her husband. Normally I love any historical element but I found myself racing through the sections set in 1671, not fully absorbing the detail because it really didn't interest me and I couldn't see what bearing it had on the other two parts of the overall story. Yes it was filled with incredible detail but the content of Elin's story was just all a bit too wishy washy for me. I suppose in the end it did connect back to the modern day but it was all just too tenuous for me. Instead I focused all my attentions on what was going on in the present day and how it could all be linked together to find the ultimate answer and of course the reasons and motivations behind it.

Once the initial discovery of the body and the connected investigation had been established for a period there was an overwhelming sense of waiting for something to happen. The police needed some clue to be discovered, some inspiration to strike for things to get motoring on. The book stalled slightly here but on reflection I suppose that's what happens in real life when a case is opened, you don't get answers instantly. Reports have to be carried out, questions asked, information has to be sieved through to work out what is false and what could be accurate. The author teases the reader with titbits of information and we are left to ponder how relevant they are to the overall picture or are they red herrings dropped in to put us very much off track. While things in my opinion were waiting to get into full flow an awful lot of characters were introduced. Some I would view as re-introductions from the previous books and others were all new.

The reader has to size up each person and decide on their relevance and importance. Were they associated with the murder or was there other topical issues coming to the fore? That's another element that made me enjoy this book. Yes there was a murderer to uncover  but the matter of the Syrian refugees arriving to seek sanctuary in the town also stirs emotions and even hatred within the minds of some residents which may have disastrous or positive outcomes. Is prejudice and racism alive and well in modern day Fjällbacka? The arrival of movie star Marie Wall to shoot her latest film sets everyone talking as she has not been seen since she confessed to a murder thirty years ago. Why wait so long to return and what connection may emerge between herself and local girl Helen? If any? Why did they confess to a murder they didn't commit so many years ago? Life has become very unsettled for all involved as old memories and secrets begin to stir once more and come to the fore. Marie's daughter Jessie and Helen's son Sam form a friendship that begins to grow deeper than just your normal companionship. They can talk to each other as they see more than a few passing similarities between them. The everyday pressures of being a teenager are compounded with the old wounds of their mothers being reopened but they too in the present are experiencing their own form of dislike. There were other characters mentioned who all in time have a bearing on the reveal but at the time of reading I dismissed some when I should have paid more attention to them.

The tension and suspension increases with each chapter. Erica although not the sole focus of the book is busy beavering away, aiding Patrik in the most subtle of manners with the investigation. As the murder of Stella is the focus of her next book she holds more than a passing interest as to the motivation of little Nea's murder. Erica has such a brilliant mind as she can step back away from the investigation and observe and consider things from a different viewpoint. I thinks she works very well in tandem with Patrik. He knows she can be relied upon and at times even though their personal relationship blurs the lines of their professions they make things work and it never seems so out of the ordinary that Erica is allowed to get so involved. Patrik too is an expert at his job and I love how he can hold his tongue when it comes to the actions of a certain someone on the police force. They themselves are loveable but god they can be very frustrating when it comes to solving any crime be it small or large.

This story is one long jigsaw with the various pieces of the puzzle slotting into place at a slow and steady pace and I loved every minute of it. The eventual outcome was a surprise and as things in the last few chapters happened very quickly, the reader does need to keep their wits about them so as not to miss out on any vital aspect of the storyline or to become too confused. I cannot recommend The Girl in the Woods enough, it is an excellent addition to the series. Long time fans will be deeply satisfied and there will be many new readers who once they have read this book will want to go back and read the entire series in one fell swoop.

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