I wanted to love The Preacher. Likened to the talent of esteemed Stieg Larsson, Camilla Läckberg was purported to weave a similar tale of brainy sleuth work and suspense. Intrigued by “if you love Larsson, you have to read Läckberg!” mantras, I reached for this with excitement and resolve that yet another Swedish crime writer would whisk me away with unforgettable characters and an intricate mystery.
I liked it. It was good. Would I read her again? Yes, of course.
Did I love it? Unfortunately, no.
Do I find Läckberg’s comparisons to Larsson fitting?
I’m afraid not.
At the heart of The Preacher is a whodunit. The novel opens with a child’s gruesome discovery of a young woman’s body on a quiet hillside in Fjällbacka, Sweden. Upon closer examination by local police, the site also harbors the much older remains of two more young female victims. Turns out these remains are over 20 years old, and are from two unsolved murders in 1979. It also turns out that the wounds on all three female bodies are identical. (Not to mention hopelessly violent.) Who could have performed such atrocities? More importantly, with such a time-lapse between the crimes, how are these victims connected?
Enter Swedish detective Patrik Hedström, and his band of officers (some of them misfits). The Preacher marks book two of Läckberg’s Hedström series (I confess that I have yet to read the first). Patrik Hedström is put in charge of the investigation, and all is moving forward, when another girl suddenly disappears from a local camp ground. Her parents are understandably beside themselves. The report notes that she had been hitchhiking. The police know what this means. Cue the clock.
Now enter the family of The Preacher; a group of characters so bizarre that it will take a few chapters to properly track names, grudges, kissing cousins, wrap sheets and religious zealots. They all herald from the original Preacher; a self-made man long deceased who spoke God’s word and healed the sick with the help of his two sons. The original Preacher’s grandson is the family’s newest religious pride: Jacob Hult. A tower of strength and fervor, Jacob loves his wife, adores his children, and even takes in his wayward sister, Linda. Swirling around Jacob is his overbearing father, his quiet mother, and his Aunt Solveig, whose two troublesome sons now manage to attract police attention with every move.
Hedström and his team are convinced that the Preacher’s clan know more than they admit about the crimes. But which member of the Crazy Family has the blood of three girls on their hands, and the key to finding the one who has just vanished? Will the police get the information they need from this family before it’s too late?
Unfortunately, I found the culprit of this book readily obvious. In fairness, perhaps it was supposed to be easy to determine. This particular character seethed with potential for evil and destruction, and the only thing that appeared to be missing from his/her person was a blinking sign that said “I did it.”
On the flip-side, I found Patrik Hedström’s character pleasant, humble, and calm. I liked how much he loved his pregnant wife. I liked how he handled office arguments. I liked that he tried to be a step or two ahead of the investigation at all times.
My problem, however, is that I couldn’t help but compare this hero with Lisbeth Salander, and that was unfair. I fell for all of the claims that this series was second only to the Dragon books, and I should have left those marketing blurbs unread, because they tainted my expectations. Hedström is a solid character, and I won’t ever take that away from Läckberg. But Lisbeth Salander got under my skin years ago, and I find that she’s still there today. I don’t think I will find Hedström quite as memorable.
The Preacher is a good mystery, and it’s sufficiently complicated. The story is woven cleverly, and it does not misuse violence, as too many of today’s thrillers tend to do. Here, Läckberg took the high road, and only seemed to include cringe-worthy scenes to propel the plot, and point a sure finger at the perpetrator. Make no mistake that the villain in this story is a troublesome character, and that the book itself picks up speed as it moves forward.
It’s just not in the same rank as the Dragon series, so it’s best to start reading Läckberg simply because she shares a decent mystery.