Book review: The Gingerbread House by Carin Gerhardsen

The Gingerbread House
by Carin Gerhardsen
translated by Paul Norlén
Stockholm Text, 2012 (e-book), first published in Sweden 2008
Hammarby police #1

Conny Sjöberg and his team make a welcome addition to the crowded but mainly enjoyable world of translated Swedish crime fiction. The Gingerbread House is an accessible book, following the traditional route of a murder (later murders) investigated by the police force in this country area north of Stockholm.

Thomas, a reclusive man in his mid-forties, has a job delivering mail in a large company. His whole life to this point has been shaped by his experiences at pre-school (this translation is into US English), when he was mercilessly bullied by the other children while the teacher looked on, uninterested. By chance, while taking a train journey, he spots a fellow-passenger he recognises as one of the main instigators from those days. Impulsively, he follows him. The next day, the man is found bludgeoned to death in a temporarily empty house in the neighbourhood.

Enter Conny and his team, in particular a young officer called Petra Westman, whose lives and concerns are woven into the story of the murder investigation. Petra, as well as being a capable and enthusiastic colleague, is concerned about a bad experience she had, or may have had, after meeting a man in a bar. She takes matters into her own hands to try to find out what happened, and becomes embroiled in a subtle, but important, case of her own.

The details of the murder investigation continue alongside Conny and his amenable wife Asa’s domestic life, a somewhat hectic one as they have five young children, the youngest of whom are adopted twins. Despite all the demands on him, Conny is a patient parent and a dedicated officer. The investigation remains stalled for most of the book, however, while the assailant attacks other ex-pupils who now live in different areas of the country. It takes the police an inordinately long time to make the links between the cases – computerised sharing of information between squads does not seem to be a feature of the Swedish police force as depicted here – but once they do, matters come to a head quickly, not forgetting a final twist.

The Gingerbread House is the sort of book that slips down a treat, despite some over-gruesome murder descriptions. The domestic and local details are fascinating, and the ensemble cast of characters allow the author to examine contemporary issues without slowing up the pace of the narrative.

I purchased this book.

Other reviews of The Gingerbread House: Criminal Element and Mystery Fanfare (interview with the author).

Scandinavian Crime Fiction: Barbara Fister’s post on Stockholm Text titles.

Stockholm Text: about this book and about other Swedish crime novels from this publisher.

15 thoughts on “Book review: The Gingerbread House by Carin Gerhardsen

  1. Great. Another book for my gargantuan TBR list. I had put this one on the list after reading Barbara Fister’s blog post about the four new Scandinavian books by women authors. Yet this review seals the deal (sigh). If only we had reading days or reading vacations — every week, with no other cares, tasks, errands, etc. How can we resist a new-to-us Swedish author, who is a woman and within the police team is a woman officer with her own story (sigh). Oh, well, it’s time for that island with books, tea and biscotti. (Or I should say iced tea, my favorite summer drink.)

  2. Maxine – Thanks for an excellent review as ever. One of the things that strikes me about this is how refreshing it is to have a lead cop who is actually not haunted by personal demons or facing a bad marital breakup, etc.. Conny sounds like a well-drawn character. I’m definitely putting this on my TBR list, but perhaps I’ll peek through my fingers or squint at the gruesome parts.

  3. Thanks for the comments – Kathy, sigh indeed! Mrs Peabody – yes, apparently she’s written more books in the series, so let’s hope for translations. Margot – thank you. Yes, I agree with you about the refreshing aspects – and the dynamics between Conny and Asa seem more authentic and perhaps less “cosy” than those between Patrick and Erica in Camilla Lackberg’s series. (The baby/child aspects feature, but do not dominate, in Gerhardsen’s book).

  4. Sounds interesting, except I’m not sure of how marked someone might be by pre-school bullying. Interesting mix of gruesome and domestic though. It sounds like you think this works fine.

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  10. I haven’t read this yet but I think the setting is Katrineholm, which is where Annika Bengtzon grew up and was a cub reporter.

    • Interesting, thank you! There is some confusion within the police (useful to the plot) as there is more than one region/village in Sweden with the same name….

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