I found this quite by chance on my library’s online catalogue, and was swayed by the fairytale-esque title. The blurb was intriguing and I do very much enjoy Scandinavian fiction in translation, so I thought I would give it a go. The Gingerbread House was first published in 2008, and was translated into English in 2012. It is part of the Hammarby series, though nowhere does it say which number this book is in the cycle, which I found a little odd.
The Gingerbread House is set in Stockholm, and features Inspector Conny Sjoberg, the Chief Investigator at the Violent Crimes Unit. The prologue of the novel moves to the small town of Katrineholm in 1968, and then goes forward in time to the investigation of the book’s crimes, which begin in 2006.
The prologue begins with rather a brutal incident, in which a young and friendless boy named Thomas is set upon by his classmates after preschool ends one day. Most shockingly, the children’s teacher does nothing to prevent what the others do to him: ‘She casts a quick glance at the tied-up boy and his playmates, and raises her hand to wave goodbye to a few of the girls standing closest’. The first murder which occurs in The Gingerbread House is that of the boy – now man – who beat Thomas up so badly and bullied him throughout preschool. An elderly woman finds his body in her house after returning from a hospital stay. Soon afterwards, more victims are targeted and the investigation, let by Conny Sjoberg, ensues. The ‘Diary of a Murderer’ unfolds alongside the investigation of the case, and as a literary technique, this works well.
The sense of place which Gerhardsen has crafted is vivid from the start: the pine trees in Katrineholm are ‘like stern guards tasked with protecting the preschool against the winter cold and other unwanted guests’, for example. The novel is well paced and is rather an easy read. The character studies which Gerhardsen presents are all interesting. The only qualm which I personally had with the book was the way in which some of the translation felt quite dated and rather unlikely – for example, Sjoberg saying ‘Oh, crud’ when he learns of the first murder. Regardless, the plot and its twists are clever, and I will certainly be reading more of Gerhardsen’s books in future.