Review: La Sorcière by Camilla Läckberg
Right, so off the bat, let me just say: I really wanted to like this book. I love Scandi noir thrillers, they're always so dark and twisty and usually pose some really interesting psychological questions, and explore the nuances and the shades of gray that most thrillers completely leave out of the equation. But this - this was a weird, weird book.
Maybe I think that because I only discovered when I was halfway through that this is the 8th book in a series, and I did not start the series from the first book - and if I had discovered the characters at the start and grown with them, my opinion would have been different. But that is Schrödinger's sequencing now, and it's not like you can prove or disprove a negative, so ho hum pig's bum here we are.
Firstly, I do not understand why this book needed to be 800 pages long. About 75% of those 800 pages is not dedicated to the investigation, but rather the personal lives of the approximately 81 main characters who are all somehow interrelated? And have very similar names? And like, I am sorry, but there are too many characters for me to be properly invested in all of their petty domestic squabbles. Maybe if I'd been introduced to these characters way back in Book 1 I'd care way more about Erica's relationship with her mother-in-law, but I just do not. I want to know who murdered the little girl, and how it links back to the little girl who was murdered on the same farm 30 years ago, and if it wasn't the women who were accused then then who was it???? These are the things I am interested in, Camilla! The mother-in-law's bachelorette party and the trials and tribulations of the main character trying to look after her toddlers with a hangover is boring! Get back to the homicide!
Also, there's a random interjection, every 50 pages or so, of a brief vignette of a woman accused of being a witch in the same small Swedish town that the main story takes place in in 1672. I never figured out what the point of that vignette was. It was just there. Never ended up tying into the main story, never was relevant, it was just there. It served no point beyond making the title of the book, The Witch, relevant (and before anybody @s me about this being a translation issue - I checked. The original Swedish title is still The Witch). But you could have just as easily picked a different title and cut out those random pages? They didn't serve any purpose. Why do you think we were ever going to be interested in this old-timey pastor sleeping with his wife's sister, and turning on the sister before she can give him away? Great, men are trash. They have been for centuries. This is not new information and why are you wasting even more of my time in a book that is already a billion pages long and meanders endlessly and to no purpose?
And I'm saying that as someone who likes books that are a billion pages long and meander.
I think the fact that the cast of characters is as big as it is is also a disservice. We spend so much time trying to remember which person this set of paragraphs is dedicated to, that we never actually get to spend any time with the characters, learning about them or their stories. We jump around too much, and it's so unclear how some of these people tie into the main story, that it's impossible to keep track or feel attached to any of them, even the investigators trying to find - let us not forget - a child murderer. It is not a great sign if, as a thriller author, you spend so much time on extraneous characters that the momentum and the stakes of an investigation into a child's murder never feel more than flat. I was never gripped by this story, I never felt the need to root for any of the investigators - there were just too many of them for me to care, and because there were so many of them, none of them felt particularly well developed or fleshed out. Again, this might be because I accidentally picked up their stories so far along a developmental arc, but the fact that I feel absolutely no desire to go back and pick up from the start is - once again - a very bad sign for someone who's supposed to be an author of thrillers. Reader, I was significantly less than thrilled. The entire time. Over all 800 pages.
There was no reason for this book to be 800 pages long.
What makes this book particularly frustrating is that there were some real elements of a brilliant story in there. The central investigation, in the far too-few brief snatches of time that we got to spend with it, was interesting and well-worked. The ultimate resolution of the mystery was well thought-out, and made sense based on the characters we'd been introduced to, and ticked off the boxes of what you expect thrillers that center around investigative journalists to do without ever feeling cliché or rote - the little details that you don't notice until they start adding up, and then all of a sudden they click, and everything falls into place. That came through really well, and the big climax of the book was shocking, thrilling, and - even though it was dark as all hell - excellently well-written; I was appropriately gripped by the last hundred pages in a way that I had just never been up until that point. And I respect that Läckberg attempted such a big, bold ending. Unfortunately, the million-and-three pages we spent on extraneous details and moments that don't fit into the broader story were wasted, and if we had been allowed to spend that time and that space with the characters that ended up being relevant, the payoff would have been far greater. As it is, there's a nugget of a good book here, but it got completely drowned by all the extra flourishes the author puts in that don't come off at all.
It's even more annoying, because this book started off just the way I love my Scandi thrillers - creepy and claustrophobic and with just a hint of the supernatural; I couldn't read it after dark because I'd convinced myself that the shadows outside my house were the murderers coming to get me because I knew too much. It just very quickly went flat, like a champagne bottle that's been left open too long. And it never recovered.
I also wasn't nuts about the writing - it was clunky and awkward, and the metaphors get bogged down in cloying sentimentality. It goes for philosophical, but comes across as weepy. The rhetoric is never anything more than overwrought, and I spent more time rolling my eyes than I did caring about any of the characters or the story itself. Not a great sign when you are, again, a thriller writer.
I can't say I recommend this book at all, unfortunately. There are good tidbits, but the tidbits get lost in the morass of a book that is overburdened by too many characters, too many tangents, and too many extraneous details that don't feed into the broader story. I also probably won't be going back to any of the books in this series, which is a real shame because when I first started this book it had so much potential. Instead it left a bit of an icky taste in my mouth.