The Gingerbread House (2012)
Series: Hammerby series, #1
Category: Police procedural
THE GINGERBREAD HOUSE by Carin Gerhardsen with translation by Paul Norlen. This is the first in the Hammerby series set in Stockholm that follows a serial killer out for revenge. The book explores the moral consequences of bullying. A topic I find very relevant today. Are we to be held accountable for the sins of our youth? In the novel, the effects of childhood abuse is something that leads an individual to a life of self-pity that’s filled with bitterness and hate. Eventually the memories of abuse begin to build and fester into a out of control rage that leads to four brutal murders in Stockholm.
The sands of naval-gazing have run out of their hourglass, and the time for retribution has come.
A real estate agent is found bludgeoned to death in a old lady’s kitchen. A mother of two is found drowned in her own foot bath. Chief Inspector Conny Sjöberg works in the Violent Crimes Unit in Hammberby. He isn’t your typical police detective. He’s happily married with five rambunctious kids. He’s close with his wife and uses her as his sounding board. Sjöberg isn’t a tortured cop with vice nor is he a superhero. He’s quite different from the cookie cutter role of the brooding detective.
As for the crimes – they are brutal and play out with the murderer right there giving us all the details. I’m not a fan of a killer’s pov. Hard to explain but somehow this worked for me with this book. While we are at least some of the time privy to the murderer’s thoughts – the majority of the time is spent with the detectives as they try to solve these cases that seem to have no connection whatsoever. The book spends its time trying to find that missing link.
As readers, we know there’s a connection and we know the motive behind these gruesome murders. The killer remains elusive to us though. What generated the suspense was watching how the detectives figure it out and the author lets them figure it out. There are no short cuts. You actually see them work on this case to the final clue that brings them to the somewhat surprising conclusion.
This novel was compulsively readable after the first couple of chapters. Confession: I go a little nuts when seeing paragraph upon paragraph with no dialogue! There’s also a slightly more fascinating sub-thread that involves a police woman who is sexually assaulted. She’s slipped a date rape drug from a man who is purportedly a doctor and who seems very knowledgeable and converses very well about foreign affairs, namely wars. There’s a nice discussion of historical events in Lebanon. Turns out this guy is cunning and the background info on him was somewhat chilling as well as interesting. He’s a monster hiding in plain sight. The victim decides to go after him – unofficially.
The author gets high marks for throwing in some reality when it comes to writing crime stories. Showing us the characters personal lives outside of their jobs made this story even more credible. The villain is rather complex. The antics of these insufferable kids — preschool kids — was vicious and mean. Some of the abuse came close to being life-threatening but they were kids. The school teacher is of the opinion that what happens outside the classroom isn’t her business. I thought it a bit of stretch for the killer to still have such vivid memories of these abuses some forty years later. Childhood abuse and bullying is not an area of expertise so I will have to defer to the author’s own research. I draw a blank when it comes to remembering my preschool days.
Overall THE GINGERBREAD HOUSE was very good but it’s not a perfect read. I did have a few minor distractions that did throw me out of the story more than once. My favorite scene? This scene right here stood out from the rest of the book. It goes on for several paragraphs but I’m only quoting the relevant bit. This scene shows how curious and fascinated we are with the macabre side of life:
“How is it that she’s dead?”
“She was strangled in her apartment last week. After first having been tortured. But she was a prostitute, so probably no one cared that much about it.”
“Good lord!” Carina exclaimed, with a uncertain smile on her lips, but her eyes revealed the sensationalism that was aroused inside her. She looked at me curiously and I smiled back courteously. I had brought out the worst in her.
The novel was originally released in 2008 according to Wikepedia. This is a five book series I think. I would like to read more of this author because I like how she writes her stories. I came across this book because the publicist emailed me asking me to read it. The publisher, Stockholm Text Publishing. The novel is also said to be the book version of The Wire. Eh, maybe on the latter. My grade, B+. This was a surprisingly good read. Source: publisher provided me with a PDF copy but I was enjoying this so much that I bought my own copy at the Sony Reader Store. Amazon has this title cheaper by 28 cents.
Notable reviews: Maxine at Petrona
Notes: Correction applied to the last paragraph and wrong word use