If you like thrillers, mystery and being completely surprised at the end of the story, I think you will love The Gingerbread House by Carin Gerhardsen. Gerhardsen skillfully crafted a thriller with a bizarre lot,a dark & dreary setting, with interesting and likable characters and managed to carry over the suspense when her book Pepparkakshuset (in Swedish) was skillfully translated by Paul Norlen into English.
This is the first book I’ve read by this author and I really enjoyed it. Gerhardsen has a writing style similar to some of my other favorite Scandinavian writers, Karin Fossum, Jo Nesbø and Åsa Larsson I read The Gingerbread House while on vacation at the beach, a setting that couldn’t be further from the cold, dark Stockholm in winter, where this story takes place, but it was easy for me to immediately become absorbed in the story.
The Gingerbread House is the first in a series called The Hammarby Series, based around Detective Inspector Conny Sjöberg and his team solving cruel and brutal murders in the southern parts of Stockholm. This evocative story explores schoolyard bullying among young children and the effect it has on them when people look the other way. Many of the scenes in this book are based on Gerhardsen’s own childhood, it is obvious with the depth & range of emotions and attention to detail. She paints a picture in an urban setting with strong portraits of authentic characters crafted in-depth and detail, ensuring the books will linger in the reader’s mind long after they finish reading it. I found this true! My Swedish isn’t good enough to read the rest of the books in this series, so I will be waiting (im)patiently for the English translations.
The story starts out with a fairy-tale like description of a preschool just south of Stockholm. A stately building surrounded by tall pines, round corners and white posts making it sound like a wonderful place for young children to spend their days. Gerhardsen goes on to describe a lively group of children bursting out of the doors, all bundled up in colorful winter gear, full of energy after a day of preschool and now on their way home. Most of the children go running off to their homes. A few, however, linger behind, one of them being 6-year-old Thomas Karlsson, who quickly becomes the target for a brutal beating, even by preschooler-aged children standards and so begins the story.
40-ish years later, a chance encounter on a train brings Thomas Karlsson face-to-face with the lead bully all those years ago, “King Hans” as the children used to call him. While Thomas lives in a dim, cramped room, all alone with no family, no friends, he can see that Hans appears to be healthy, strong and happy. On a whim and without really even knowing why, Thomas decides to secretly follow Hans home. The next day, Hans is found murdered, head bashed in and his life over in a matter of minutes. Then follows a string of what seems to be unrelated murders of people in their forties.
The book switches between a number of characters: the murderer, the chief inspector, a detective, and at times, we are given an insight into the victims but it wasn’t at all confusing. I really understood the different perspectives of each character. Each character has their own storyline going, but each story blends in to the main storyline quite well. The book was exciting, just when I thought I had it figured out – I’d turn the page and couldn’t be more wrong!
I’ve been a huge fan of “Nordic Noir” as it’s been called since long before the whole “Stieg Larsson” craze (which I loved, by the way). The Gingerbread House, is in fact, published by the same publisher & edited by the same team that produced “The Millenium Trilogy” with the wonderful Lisbeth Salander. There’s just something about the Swedish culture that lends itself to taking what could be your run-of-the-mill mystery/thriller and turning it into something dark, mysterious and thrilling. If you’re like me, a fan of mystery, thrillers and intrigue but like that little “extra something Scandinavian” thrown in, I think you will really enjoy this book. Put it on your “must read” list, you won’t regret it!