Cult by Camilla Lackberg and Henrik Fexeus

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Cult by Camilla Lackberg and Henrik Fexeus front cover

Translated by Ian Giles — Bestselling Swedish author Camilla Lackberg teamed up with celebrity mentalist Henrik Fexeus to write Trapped, which was published last year. Now, the pair have returned with the second in the series featuring germophobe police officer, Mina Dabiri, and obsessive compulsive mentalist, Vincent Walder. Like its authors, Cult’s two main protagonists are an unlikely combo and after the tragic events of Trapped they’re back together to stop a kidnapper in their tracks.

It’s a parent’s worst nightmare. Frederik and Josefin’s five-year-old son, Ossian, is taken from his nursery in Stockholm. For Mina Dabiri and her colleagues at the Kungsholmen police headquarters the case is a harsh reminder of a similar incident barely a year ago, when Lily Meyer was found dead 72 hours after being taken. They’ve already failed to protect one child and now feel they absolutely must prevent another youngster from being killed.

When Adam, a mediator who worked on the Lily Meyer case, is brought in to help, it becomes clear that the abduction isn’t for ransom or child trafficking. There is nothing on which to base a psychological profile. According to witnesses the kidnappers were different. Could it be the work of a group, or even a cult? Both cases contain elements of ritual and symbolism that point in that direction. If so, who better to advise the police than Nova, a public speaker and self-help guru whose organisation assists with the deprogramming of cult members?

Meanwhile, Mina’s estranged teenage daughter, Nathalie, is approached on a train by a woman claiming to be her grandmother. Nathalie had no idea she had a grandmother. In fact, she has no idea who her mother is. Mina became addicted to the pills she was given after postpartum surgery when Nathalie was born. As the daughter of an alcoholic, she didn’t want her own child to go through the same hell and opted to relinquish her rights as a mother.

Nathalie’s grandmother, Ines, persuades her to spend some time at Epicura, the centre where she works, which is run by the cult expert Nova. Nathalie feels like she belongs for the first time and hopes that becoming close to her grandmother will provide answers about the mother she barely remembers; answers her father isn’t willing to give. Everyone at the centre is good to her with their white teeth and constant smiles.

Struggling with the kidnapping case, Mina contacts Vincent Walder, the famous mentalist she worked with in Trapped. Two years have past and they haven’t spoken. Their relationship is complicated and he is trying to work things out with his wife. Feeling the pressure of his marriage, Vincent has missed Mina, who accepts him for who he is – a man obsessed with patterns and connections and who compulsively counts everything. Mina, on the other hand, is a germophobe who despises change, has difficulty with relationships, and truly, deeply hates huggers. Vincent never thought Mina’s cleaning rituals were strange, he simply adapted to them. And Mina recognised Vincent’s winding train of thought and one-of-a-kind way of expressing himself.

Co-writing a crime novel must be a difficult task, especially if you’re friends. It’s no surprise that Lackberg and Fexeus kept their collaboration a secret until the first book was well on its way. Although it’s impossible to guess who was responsible for which parts, Fexeus’ influence is evident in Vincent’s character, which is no surprise. His detailed, more analytical contributions to the novel seem to balance Lackberg’s lighter approach. Sharp-witted humour illuminates the otherwise dark themes such as racism, sexism, addiction and the complexities of relationships, whether in marriage or between a mother and daughter. These themes aren’t explored in depth and are mostly overshadowed by the two main storylines, which do get very intricate. References to events in Trapped mean it might be a good idea to read that first, if you haven’t already.

Vincent and Mina’s characters are both well-developed with distinct voices but, surprisingly, so are the secondary characters. We learn almost as much about Mina’s coworkers Peter, Ruben, Julia and Christer as we do about Vincent and Mina. This is a welcome change from novels that focus on their main protagonists and allow other potentially interesting characters to fade into the background. Here we have a large cast of characters who could easily branch off into more detailed stories of their own.

While Cult achieves a good balance of character and plot, at 592 pages it is unnecessarily long, with a great deal of repetition, particularly mentions of the heatwave Stockholm is suffering and Mina’s obsessive cleaning. Readers do not need to be repeatedly reminded of the characters’ actions or the oppressive heat. Unless, of course, the authors intended this to be a manifestation of their protagonists’ own repetitive overthinking? That doesn’t seem to be the case here and Mina’s frequent changes of clothing due to the heat, for example, add bulk to an already hefty read without contributing to the narrative. Without them, Cult would’ve been a punchier and more suspenseful novel.

The diverging threads are neatly woven together, and we’re left with a satisfying ending and a hint at what’s to come next. Mirage, the third book in the trilogy, has recently been released in Sweden, so hopefully it will be available in English within the next year.

Watch Jacky Collins, aka Dr Noir, interview Henrik Fexeus or read our review of Camilla Lackberg’s The Hidden Child.


CFL Rating: 3 Stars

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