Book Review: BURIED ANGELS, new evidence in a decades old missing persons case

Lackberg, Camilla - Buried Angels (2)Buried Angels
Camilla Lackberg

In 1974, the Elvander family mysteriously disappeared from a boarding school they ran on Valö, an island near Fjällbacka, Sweden. They left their Easter dinner on the table and one-year-old Ebba alone in the living room.

After Ebba’s young son Vincent tragically died, she and her husband fled to Valö, transferring all their grief into the physical labor required to transform the dilapidated old school into a bed and breakfast. However, when they pulled up the floorboards in the dining room and found blood stains, the decades old crime came to light. Only days later, someone set fire to the house while Ebba and Tobias were inside sleeping.

Although he had little evidence, Patrik Hedström was convinced the family’s disappearance, Ebba’s return, and the arson were all connected. And when someone shot at at Ebba through her kitchen window, he felt he was racing against time. His only colleague though was the famously lazy Gösta Flygare since Martin was on sick leave and Paula on vacation. Surprisingly, though, Gösta showed an interest in this case that he’d never displayed in the entire time Patrik had been with the Tanum police.

Five students had been on the island during the Easter weekend the family disappeared, and they happened to converge in Fjällbacka. Patrik and Gösta plus journalist Kjell Ringholm are convinced they know more than they admitted in their interviews at the time. However, they have even more to lose now. One of the group, Sebastian Månsson, is a wealthy businessman, and another, John Holm, is a leader of Friends of Sweden, a neo-Nazi political group.

Patrik’s wife, true crime novelist Erica Falck, long interest in the Valö mystery, insinuates herself into the investigation, perhaps putting it, herself, and others in danger.

For me, Buried Angels began slowly, and really didn’t capture me in an I-can’t-put-this-down way until I was about halfway through the book. By then, I was invested and curious enough that the rest of it went very quickly.

I’ve read all of the Fjällbacka mysteries (with varying degrees of recall, I must admit), and Buried Angels improves on the dialogue, which in past volumes was choppy and abrupt. Although I assumed it was a translation artifact, it wasn’t present in this entry, at least not so that I noticed.

However, Lackberg did seem to return to two of her favorite themes: Nazis and secrets among groups of old friends. Certainly, these themes are deployed differently in Buried Angels than in other books in the series, but I would like to have more variation.

Being the eighth book in the series, the characters are fairly well-established. Mellberg is often presented as a caricature of a buffoon, though the rest of the cast is likable if sometimes flat. Gösta, though, long written off as a disinterested and lazy officer, gains some depth in this book.

Buried Angels has two parallel stories–the contemporary investigation, and a chronicle that begins in 1908. Lackberg uses the historical sections to create small cliffhangers, but sometimes they are never resolved. For example, Ebba receives a threatening postcard, and though readers ultimately learn who sent it, we are never told what it said.

The historical sections themselves are interesting, though they might have been even more interesting if they’d had more contextual information about the times in which they were written.

Like many of the books in the series, the characters in Buried Angels struggle with fair division of labor within relationships. It’s a constant internal refrain for Erica, though she doesn’t communicate about it with Patrik.

Also present in this book is the pain from losing a child and how difficult it can be for the parents to individually heal and at the same time repair their relationship.

Buried Angels is not the best, but not the worst book in the series. It’s definitely something fans should read. Those who haven’t read Camilla Lackberg before should begin with The Ice Princess.