During an unusually hot July, detective Patrik Hedstrom and Erica Falck are enjoying a rare week at home together, nervous and excited about the imminent birth of their first baby. Across town, however, a six-year-old boy makes a gruesome discovery that will ravage their little tourist community and catapult Patrik into the center of a terrifying murder case.
The boy has stumbled upon the brutally murdered body of a young woman, and Patrik is immediately called to lead the investigation. Things get even worse when his team uncovers, buried beneath the victim, the skeletons of two campers whose disappearance had baffled police for decades. The three victims’ injuries seem to be the work of the same killer, but that is impossible: the main suspect in the original kidnappings committed suicide twenty-four years ago.
When yet another young girl disappears and panic begins to spread, Patrik leads a desperate manhunt to track down a ruthless serial killer before he strikes again.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The day was off to a promising start. He woke up early, before the rest of the family, put on his clothes as quietly as possible and managed to sneak out unnoticed. He took along his knight’s helmet and wooden sword, which he swung happily as he ran the hundred yards from the house down to the mouth of the King’s Cleft. He stopped for a moment and peered in awe into the sheer crevice through the rocky outcrop. The sides of the rock were six or seven feet apart, and it towered up over thirty feet into the sky, into which the summer sun had just begun to climb. Three huge boulders were solidly wedged in the middle of the cleft, and it was an imposing sight. The place held a magical attraction for a six-year-old. The fact that the King’s Cleft was forbidden ground made it all the more tempting.
The name had originated from King Oscar II’s visit to Fjällbacka in the late nineteenth century, but that was something he neither knew nor cared about as he slowly crept into the shadows, with his sword ready to attack. His father had told him that the scenes from Hell’s Gap in the film Ronja Rövardotter had been filmed inside the King’s Cleft. When he had watched the film himself, he felt a little tickle in his stomach as he saw the robber chieftain Mattis ride through. Sometimes he played highwaymen here, but today he was a knight. A knight of the Round Table, like in the big, fancy colored book that his grandmother had given him for his birthday.
He crept over the boulders that covered the ground and made ready to attack the great fire-breathing dragon with his courage and his sword. The summer sun did not reach down into the cleft, which made it a cold, dark place. Perfect for dragons. Soon he would make the blood spurt from its throat, and after prolonged death throes it would fall dead at his feet.
Out of the corner of his eye he saw something that caught his attention. He glimpsed a piece of red cloth behind a boulder, and curiosity got the better of him. The dragon could wait; maybe there was treasure hidden there. He jumped up on the rock and looked down the other side. For a moment he almost fell over backward, but after wobbling and flailing his arms around he regained his balance. Later, he would not admit that he was scared, but just then, at that instant, he had never been more terrified in all six years of his life. A lady was lying in wait for him. She was on her back, staring straight up at him with her eyes wide. His first instinct was to flee before she caught him playing here when he wasn’t supposed to be. Maybe she would force him to tell her where he lived and then drag him home to Mamma and Pappa. They would be so furious, and they were sure to ask, how many times have we told you that you mustn’t go to the King’s Cleft without a grown-up?
But the odd thing was that the lady didn’t move. She didn’t have any clothes on either, and for an instant he was embarrassed that he was standing there looking at a naked lady. The red he had seen was not a piece of cloth but something wet right next to her, and he couldn’t see her clothes anywhere. Funny, lying there naked. Especially when it was so cold.
Then something impossible occurred to him. What if the lady was dead? He couldn’t work out any other explanation for why she was lying so still. The realization made him jump down from the rock, and he slowly backed toward the mouth of the cleft. After putting a few yards between himself and the dead lady, he turned around and ran home as fast as he could. He no longer cared if he was scolded or not.
* * *
Sweat made the sheet stick to her body. Erica tossed and turned in bed, but it was impossible to find a comfortable position. The bright summer night didn’t make it any easier to sleep, and for the thousandth time she made a mental note to buy some blackout curtains to hang up, or rather persuade Patrik to do it.
It drove her crazy that he could sleep so contentedly next to her. How dare he lie there snoring when she lay awake night after night? She gave him a little poke in the hope that he’d wake up. He didn’t budge. She poked a little harder. He grunted, pulled the covers up and turned his back to her.
With a sigh, she lay on her back with her arms crossed over her breasts and stared at the ceiling. Her belly arched into the air like a big globe, and she tried to imagine her baby swimming inside of her in the dark. Maybe with his thumb in his mouth. Although it was all still too unreal for her to be able to picture it. She was in her eighth month but still couldn’t grasp the fact that she had another life inside her. Well, pretty soon it was going to be very real. Erica was torn between longing and dread. It was difficult to see beyond the childbirth. To be honest, right now it was hard to see beyond the problem of no longer being able to sleep on her stomach. She looked at the luminous dial of the alarm clock. 4:42 a.m. Maybe she should turn on the light and read for a while instead.
Three and a half hours and one bad detective novel later, she was about to roll out of bed when the telephone rang shrilly. As usual she handed the receiver to Patrik.
“Hello, this is Patrik.” His voice was thick with sleep. “Okay, all right. Oh shit, yeah, I can be there in fifteen minutes. See you there.”
He turned to Erica. “We’ve got an emergency. I’ve got to run.”
“But you’re on vacation. Can’t one of the others take it?” She could hear that her voice sounded whiny, but lying awake all night hadn’t done much for her mood.
“It’s a murder. Mellberg wants me to come along. He’s going out there himself.”
“A murder? Where?”
“Here in Fjällbacka. A little boy found a woman’s body in the King’s Cleft this morning.”
Patrik threw on his clothes, which didn’t take long since it was the middle of July and he only needed light summer clothes. Before he rushed out the door he climbed onto the bed and kissed Erica on the belly, somewhere near where she vaguely recalled she once had a navel.
“See you later, baby. Be nice to Mamma, and I’ll be home soon.”
He kissed her quickly on the cheek and hurried off. With a sigh Erica hoisted herself out of bed and put on one of those tentlike dresses that for the time being were the only things that fit her. Against her better judgment she had read lots of baby books, and in her opinion everyone who wrote about the joyful experience of pregnancy ought to be taken out in the public square and horsewhipped. Insomnia, sore joints, stretch marks, hemorrhoids, night sweats and a general hormonal upheaval—that was closer to the truth. And she sure as hell wasn’t glowing with any inner radiance. Erica muttered to herself as she slowly made her way downstairs in pursuit of the day’s first cup of coffee. Maybe that would lift the fog a bit.
By the time Patrik arrived, a feverish amount of activity was already under way. The mouth of the King’s Cleft had been cordoned off with yellow tape, and he counted three police cars and an ambulance. The techs from Uddevalla were busy with their work and he knew better than to walk right into the crime scene. That was a rookie mistake, which didn’t prevent his boss, Superintendent Mellberg, from stomping around among them. They looked in dismay at his shoes and clothing, which at that very moment were adding thousands of fibers and particles to their sensitive workplace. When Patrik stopped outside the tape and motioned to his boss, Mellberg climbed back over the cordon, to the great relief of Forensics.
“Hello, Hedström,” said the superintendent.
His voice was hearty, bordering on joyful, and Patrik was taken aback. For a moment he thought that Mellberg was about to give him a hug but thankfully, this turned out to be wrong. Nevertheless, the man appeared completely changed. It was only a week since Patrik had gone on vacation, but the man before him was really not the same one he’d left sitting sullenly at his desk, muttering that the very concept of vacations ought to be abolished.
Mellberg eagerly pumped Patrik’s hand and slapped him on the back.
“So, how’s it going with the brooding hen at home? Any sign that you’re going to be a father soon?”
“Not for a month and a half, they say.”
Patrik still had no idea what had brought on such good humor on Mellberg’s part, but he pushed aside his surprise and tried to concentrate on the reason he’d been called to the scene.
“So what have you found?”
Mellberg made an effort to wipe the smile off his face and pointed toward the shadowy interior of the cleft.
“A six-year-old boy sneaked out early this morning while his parents were asleep and came here to play knights among the boulders. Instead he found a dead woman. We got the call at six fifteen.”
“How long has Forensics had to examine the crime scene?”
“They arrived an hour ago. The ambulance got here first, and the EMTs were immediately able to confirm that no medical help was needed. Since then they’ve been able to work freely. They’re a bit touchy . . . I just wanted to go in and look around a bit and they were quite rude about it, I must say. Well, I suppose one gets a little anal crawling around looking for fibers with tweezers all day long.”
Now Patrik recognized his boss again. This was more Mellberg’s sort of tone. But Patrik knew from experience that it was no use trying to alter his opinions. It was easier just to let his remarks go in one ear and out the other.
“What do we know about her?”
“Nothing yet. We think she’s around twenty-five. The only item of clothing we found, if you could call it that, was a handbag. Otherwise she was stark naked. Pretty nice tits, actually.”
Patrik shut his eyes and repeated to himself, like an inner mantra, It won’t be long until he retires. It won’t be long until he retires . . .
Mellberg went on obliviously. “The cause of death hasn’t been confirmed, but she was beaten severely. Bruises all over her body and a number of what look to be knife wounds. And then there’s the fact that she’s lying on a gray blanket. The medical examiner is having a look at her, and we hope to have a preliminary statement very soon.”
“Has anyone been reported missing around that age?”
“No, nowhere near it. An old man was reported missing about a week ago, but it turned out that he just got tired of being cooped up with his wife in a camper and took off with a chick he met at Galären Pub.”
Patrik saw that the team around the body was now preparing to lift her carefully into a body bag. Her hands and feet had been bagged according to regulations to preserve any evidence. The team of forensic officers from Uddevalla worked together to get the woman into the body bag in the most efficient way possible. Then the blanket she was lying on also had to be put in a plastic bag for later examination.
The shocked expression on their faces and the way they froze instantly told Patrik that something unexpected had happened.
“What is it?” he called.
“You’re not going to believe this,” said one of the officers, “but there are bones here. And two skulls. Based on the number of bones, I’d say there are easily enough for two skeletons.”
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for The Preacher includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Camilla Läckberg. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
The small Swedish tourist town of Fjällbacka is suffering a summer heat wave when the body of a young woman is found brutally murdered. Inspector Patrik Hedström, who is enjoying a week off with his very pregnant girlfriend, Erica, is called in to head the investigation. Right from the start the case takes a startling twist, when investigators find the skeletons of two more bodies hidden under the recent murder victim. The bones are eventually identified as the remains of two young women who went missing in the late 1970s. Suspicion falls on a local family, and as clues pile up and a fourth girl goes missing, Patrik must do all he can to keep the investigation on track, even as he uncovers a twisted web of lies and deception that goes back generations.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Early in the novel, Jacob Hult reflects on his role as a religious leader. Despite his respected status, Jacob harbors doubts: “Something was missing inside him, and the search for this unknown something frightened him” (p. 45). What is this missing “something” that Jacob is referring to? How does it connect to his faith in himself and in God?
2. How does Läckberg build suspense in The Preacher? Did the multiple narrative voices increase your understanding, or further obscure the mystery? What effect do the italicized voices, set in 1979 and 2003, have on the novel?
3. Erica is in the last months of her pregnancy as the story begins, commenting that she and Patrik “were longing for the arrival of this child with every fiber of their bodies” (p.15). Yet both parents experience doubt. What are Erica’s fears about having a child? How does her own upbringing influence her fears?
4. Erica and Patrik are not young when they meet, and by the time Erica gets pregnant she says, “They had a more realistic, everyday foundation to build on now, with better insight into each other’s good and bad sides” (p. 15). Is this true? Discuss how Erica and Patrik support each other throughout the novel. Do they recognize and respect each other’s needs?
5. Gabriel Hult “had the personality of an accountant to his very core” and believed “What’s right is right” (p. 29). What does this mean, and in what way does this contrast with his brother, Johannes? How does your perception of these two men change as the story continues?
6. When Solveig learns that the two skeletons are the bodies of the long-missing girls, she rushes to Gabriel’s house, triumphant and incensed. Why is she so happy, and what makes her so angry at her brother-in-law? Do you sympathize with her at this moment?
7. The surviving family members of the two missing young women, Mona and Siv, display quite different reactions to the news that the girls’ bodies have finally been identified. Discuss how their emotions differ, and what it reveals to both the reader and to Patrik about their relationship to their children.
8. At one point Robert remarks, “Life blew you one way or another, that was simply the way things were” (p. 99). How is Robert’s philosophy shaped by the breakup of his family after his father’s death? What happens later in the novel that proves Robert is not as passive as he claims to be?
9. At one point, Laine comments about Gabriel, “Behind that boring, reserved exterior was a passionate man, but he was buried so deep that she didn’t think he even realized it himself” (p. 117). Discuss Laine’s relationship with her husband. Does her view of him change by the end of the novel? How does Laine become a pivotal character in the story?
10. Gabriel and Jacob have very different memories of the family patriarch, “the Preacher,” Ephraim Hult. Discuss the differences in the way these two men view Ephraim. How does this difference in perspective affect the relationship Gabriel and Jacob have with each other, and how does it manifest itself in their lives?
11. As sisters, Anna and Erica have a loving, if fraught, relationship. Läckberg writes, “the two sisters became stuck in roles that neither of them knew how to change” (p.212). What are these roles, and how do you think they were formed?
12. Throughout the novel, Stefan and Linda carry on an illicit affair, despite the fact that they share a troubled family history. When Linda invites Stefan over to Västergården, it is a traumatic homecoming. Discuss the scene that unfolds between the two lovers. How do their perceptions of each other change in this scene? Do you think it bodes well for their relationship?
13. After coming home to a shocking discovery, Erica’s sister Anna decides to return to her estranged husband, Lucas, despite his abuse. Why does she do this? Do you understand her decision?
14. At the end of The Preacher, the reader finally hears from Ephraim Hult himself. How do Ephraim’s thoughts and actions toward his family set in motion the events of the story? How did he misread the situation, and why are the consequences so devastating?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Camilla Läckberg’s novels take place in Fjällbacka, a small town that is a popular tourist destination in the summer months. Discuss your favorite summer vacation spots during your meeting. Bring in photos and video of your holidays to share with the group.
2. In the town square of Fjällbacka there is a statue that honors Ingrid Bergman, who often spent time there. Watch an Ingrid Bergman movie (such as Casablanca or Anastasia) with your book club to hold your own memorial for the great Swedish star.
3. Erica and Patrik work together to solve the mystery. Watch the Hollywood classic The Thin Man to see another team of romantic partners solving crimes together.
4. Read Camilla Läckberg’s first novel, The Ice Princess, and discuss how the recurring characters evolve over the course of two books.
5. To find out more about her, Fjällbacka, and her characters, explore Camilla Läckberg’s extensive website, www.camillalackberg.com.
A Conversation with Camilla Läckberg
In your novels, Erica and Patrik work together to solve crimes. Does your husband ever help you with your writing?
Yes, since my husband is a police officer, he is very useful to me in my job as a crime writer. Some of my colleagues say it’s unfair competition for me to have my very own policeman…
How do you see the relationship between Erica and Patrik evolving in this novel?
For me it was wonderful to have their initial romance in the first book evolve into a more mature relationship, to the point where they’re even starting a family. But I also love describing the difficulties that two adults, each set in their own ways face as they’re trying to adapt to each other and become a couple.
Before you wrote your first novel—The Ice Princess—you worked as an economist. Did your experience in the field help you when writing Gabriel’s character and his love of numbers and accounting?
Yes, in creating him I did think of some of the people I met during my career as an economist. Personally, I have never understood that love of numbers—I prefer words! But, believe it or not, there are some actual Gabriel-like characters out there in the real world.
You do a wonderful job of creating a multifaceted portrait of Anna and her abusive relationship with her husband, Lucas. What do you want the reader to come away with in regard to Anna and her situation in this novel?
I want my readers to understand Anna, and to be able to empathize with her; I want them to see why it is so difficult to be in an abusive relationship—and why it is so hard to leave.
You use multiple points of view in The Preacher and in your other novels in the series. Is it difficult to inhabit the minds of so many characters?
No, that is what I love about reading, that I can get into the minds of so many different people.
One of Erica and Patrik’s frustrations in the novel is the continued aggravation of having uninvited guests in their home. Coming from Fjällbacka, do you have similar problems with tourists and drop-in guests who want to take advantage of the beautiful scenery?
The story about the uninvited guests is something I drew from my own family’s experience. Unfortunately, basically everyone who lives in Fjällbacka is familiar with that problem: there are a lot of people in the world who genuinely have no manners!
You are a big reader and fan of crime fiction. Do you think it takes different skills to write a good crime novel, as opposed to good general fiction?
Yes, I think it is a different skill. In a crime novel, you have to be able to focus on the small details, the clues and pieces of a bigger puzzle, and make them #t together in a way that differs from other kinds of fiction.
On your website you have a section on the craft of crime writing, with several helpful tips and exercises. How did you develop these points?
I started writing after taking a writing course, so I learned a lot there. I have also read many books on the subject—Stephen King’s and Elizabeth George’s books on writing are among my favorites. And of course to all of that I have added my own experience and reflections, things I’ve learned in the course of writing my own series.
Is there one writer that in"uenced you the most in your work?
I fell in love with crime fiction the moment I read my first Agatha Christie…so to me she is the queen of crime.
What’s next for Patrik, Erica, and Anna?
I have lots in store for them in the books to follow The Preacher. Keep reading and you’ll see…