THE SCENT OF ALMONDS & OTHER STORIES by Camilla Läckberg
CBTB Rating: 3.5/5
The Verdict: clever & atmospheric short stories
Camilla Läckberg remains one of my top recommendations for readers looking to try Nordic Noir for the first time. Her Fjällbacka series is accessible and engaging—it’s filled with endearing characters, compelling mysteries, and the the chilling atmosphere that exemplifies Scandinavian crime fiction. It's "starter Nordic Noir" in the best sense: not too disturbing or violent, while successfully introducing readers to the qualities that make Scandinavian crime such an outstanding subgenre of crime fiction. (If you’re interested in checking this series out, Book 1 is THE ICE PRINCESS.)
On a recent trip to Canada, I picked up a copy of Läckberg’s short story collection THE SCENT OF ALMONDS & OTHER STORIES - a slim little book that I have yet to find in US bookstores. Comprised of four short stories, THE SCENT OF ALMONDS will make an entertaining and clever addition to Läckberg fans’ personal libraries—though it won't deliver the best introduction to Läckberg for new readers. This collection is, admittedly, not be the most groundbreaking or dark short story collection - I definitely recommend Läckberg's full-length fiction over this collection if you're after interpersonal intrigue and chilling mysteries. That being said, this collection's accessibility and familiarity (series favorites appear in these stories!) make it a fun holiday gift if you know a Läckberg fan - or if you’re a fan of hers yourself! It plays directly into series fans' nostalgia for the world Läckberg has crafted, delivering a charming - if somewhat "light" - suspense collection.
THE SCENT OF ALMONDS – It’s less than a week until Christmas and policeman Martin Mohlin is begrudgingly accompanying his girlfriend to a family reunion on the tiny island of Valön outside of Fjällbacka. The connection to the mainland is cut off by a snowstorm and when the domineering patriarch Ruben collapses during Christmas dinner, Martin is forced to intervene. He soon establishes that Ruben was murdered and since they are completely isolated on the island, one of the family members must be murderer…
Despite being a short story collection, THE SCENT OF ALMONDS resides within Lackberg’s Fjallbacka series, referencing characters and locations that readers of the series will be familiar with. You don’t have to have read this series to understand THE SCENT OF ALMONDS, but it will hugely enhance your appreciation of this collection to have some familiarity with Lackberg’s most well-known characters. I would strongly recommend trying Läckberg's full-length fiction before digging into these stories. Each story within this collection can be read independent of the others.
Review: THE SCENT OF ALMONDS & Other Stories
Story 1: THE SCENT OF ALMONDS
The collection’s namesake story is also its longest—in fact, this story might be best considered a novella. Series character Martin (a police officer and coworker of Patrik, one of the series leads) is invited to an isolated hotel to celebrate the holidays with his girlfriend’s family. When a huge storm finds the family snowbound in the hotel, things take a turn for the worse. The family’s patriarch is found dead, and, while rushing to examine the body, Martin catches a whiff of the scent of bitter almonds… a telltale sign of cyanide poisoning. Cut off from the rest of the world by the driving snow, Martin finds himself locked in the midst of a family in crisis, with a murderer among them.
There is a whole lot to love about this novella. While perhaps not the most chilling of the collection, readers will enjoy Läckberg’s take on a “locked room mystery.” This story is all about family dynamics: Läckberg quickly draws Martin - and the reader - into a genuinely dysfunctional family and its hidden secrets. Much of this story’s 130-odd pages is spent delving into the individual backstories and relationships of family members. Despite its dark plot, it’s not as chilling as readers might expect—I could have done with a bit more darkness and tension, but I thoroughly enjoyed the interpersonal intrigue provided here. Couple this with the story’s class-crime inspired plot, and THE SCENT OF ALMONDS is a pleasing blend of Läckberg-style Nordic Noir and classic mystery.
Story 2: AN ELEGANT DEATH
A woman is found bludgeoned to death in the luxury clothing store she only recently opened. Patrik Hedstrom is on the case, and his wife Erica Falck (a journalist and true crime writer) isn’t far behind. Erica soon discovers that the woman’s daughters have their own ideas about what should happen to the store in their mother’s death…
This story was my least favorite of the collection - not because there’s anything particularly “wrong” with it, but simply because it didn’t go that extra step that I had hoped it would. There's not much tension or interpersonal intrigue to be found here, unfortunately, and the story's plot is lacking in the compelling tension that usually appears in Läckberg's work. This is a very short story, so Läckberg is limited in what she can achieve here, but I just didn't particularly connect with this story.
Story 3: DREAMING OF ELISABETH
A woman (Malin) is on a boat, sailing with her husband. This would all be very nice, except that her husband’s previous wife died on a similar boat, after “falling” overboard. A storm encroaches on the couple and their vessel, and Malin begins to doubt her husband’s intentions. Is Malin soon to meet the same fate as her husband’s first wife?
A strong short story! DREAMING OF ELISABETH is atmospheric and chilling, and plays into the domestic thriller trend that has been so popular recently. Läckberg quickly establishes an atmosphere of tension and suspicion between her characters—no small accomplishment considering how short this story is. Of all the stories in this collection, this one reads most like a psychological thriller - right down to the jaw-dropping twist that Läckberg delivers at the story’s end.
Story 4: THE WIDOW'S CAFE
A coffee shop owner is serving up a deadly special in her charming cafe, and the police are hot on her tails.
This little story is the crowning jewel of THE SCENT OF ALMONDS, in my opinion. THE WIDOW’S CAFE packs a punch - it’s chilling and entertaining, while also (and perhaps most compellingly) making readers complicit in something that’s definitely illegal, but morally... might just be right. I always love when an author puts the reader in that position: cheering for a character whose actions might not be legal or moral—and I loved that Läckberg manages to do this in such a brief story. THE WIDOW'S CAFE was without a doubt my favorite of the collection. Läckberg has crafted a clever and totally engaging short story here, complete with an ending that I just absolutely loved. It's worth noting that, if you're curious, I did spot THE WIDOW'S CAFE available as a Kindle single.
I don't read many short story collections, but I'm glad I picked up THE SCENT OF ALMONDS. This isn't the most groundbreaking or substantial collection, but as a longstanding fan of the series, it was very fun to reconnect with old favorite characters in a different capacity. While I absolutely prefer Läckberg's novels to these short stories, I thoroughly enjoyed this little glimpse back into Patrik and Erica's world.
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd (2015)
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