Monday, 15 June 2015


Stockholm police detective Martin Molin is headed out to an island, a week before Christmas, to spend a couple of days with his girlfriend Lisette and meet her family. He doesn't feel ready for this, and the gathering does nothing to relax him. Lisette's grandfather Ruben is a self-made millionaire, and is dying. The family gathered round him, two sons, their wives, and four grandchildren are there to suck up to Ruben and jostle for bits of inheritance, all except for Lisette's brother Mattias, who seems to care only for his grandfather with genuine affection, and their shared love of Sherlock Holmes stories.

At dinner the first night Ruben is poisoned, and a storm cuts the party off from contact with the mainland. Molin lumbers into action, interviewing the family members, and discovering webs of intrigue, jealousy, theft, and romance: just what you'd expect in such a setting. And when there is a second killing, he seems overwhelmed by the intransigence of the family and his inability to point to a killer amongst this large locked room.

This is the title story of Camilla Lackberg's collection, in the coziest of cosy styles. It is very much in the fashion of Maria Lang, in fact almost a seasonal inversion of her first novel, which became the first Crimes Of Passion episode Death Of A Loved One. Did it not precede those TV movies by seven years, you'd almost think it was a deliberate attempt to cash-in; as it is though, I see it as conscious hommage. And then there's Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None; Christie spawned a lot of Swedish imitators. But Lackberg's style is far more reticent than Lang's, despite being so much more modern: indeed were it not for the mobile phones that register no bars of signal while the cast is trapped on their island, you might think this was written fifty years earlier.

Lackberg has some interesting situations, none moreso than the relationship between Molin and Lisette. So when it happens that Lisette is also carrying on a periodic affair with her cousin, the revelation is placed so far offstage as to register barely a bump in Molin's plodding psyche. That Lackberg's own husband is named Martin Melin leads me to believe they both must have interesting senses of humour!

The story moves in circles, a series of interviews interspersed with a series of big meals, described lovingly, and endless coffee-pauses for Molin with the caretaker and his wife. All this would be fine were the story itself a thriller—but the dual twists (both murders turn out to be suicides) come about when Molin at the very last moment, just before they board the boat back to the mainland, 'suddenly remembered seeing this done in a Sherlock Holmes movie'. Oh, okay. And the two suicides were depending on someone figuring that out? But as Molin says to Lisette, as they part 'The whole situation has just been so...stressful'. Indeed.

The Scent Of Almonds and other Stories

by Camilla Lackberg, translated by Tiina Nunnally

Harper Collins, £6.99 ISBN 9780007479078

NOTE: This review will also appear at Crime Time (

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