This reading group guide for The Preacher includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Camilla Läckberg. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
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The small Swedish tourist town of Fjällbacka is suffering a summer heat wave when the body of a young woman is found brutally murdered. Inspector Patrik Hedström, who is enjoying a week off with his very pregnant girlfriend, Erica, is called in to head the investigation. Right from the start the case takes a startling twist, when investigators find the skeletons of two more bodies hidden under the recent murder victim. The bones are eventually identified as the remains of two young women who went missing in the late 1970s. Suspicion falls on a local family, and as clues pile up and a fourth girl goes missing, Patrik must do all he can to keep the investigation on track, even as he uncovers a twisted web of lies and deception that goes back generations.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Early in the novel, Jacob Hult reflects on his role as a religious leader. Despite his respected status, Jacob harbors doubts: “Something was missing inside him, and the search for this unknown something frightened him” (p. 45). What is this missing “something” that Jacob is referring to? How does it connect to his faith in himself and in God?
2. How does Läckberg build suspense in The Preacher
? Did the multiple narrative voices increase your understanding, or further obscure the mystery? What effect do the italicized voices, set in 1979 and 2003, have on the novel?
3. Erica is in the last months of her pregnancy as the story begins, commenting that she and Patrik “were longing for the arrival of this child with every fiber of their bodies” (p.15). Yet both parents experience doubt. What are Erica’s fears about having a child? How does her own upbringing influence her fears?
4. Erica and Patrik are not young when they meet, and by the time Erica gets pregnant she says, “They had a more realistic, everyday foundation to build on now, with better insight into each other’s good and bad sides” (p. 15). Is this true? Discuss how Erica and Patrik support each other throughout the novel. Do they recognize and respect each other’s needs?
5. Gabriel Hult “had the personality of an accountant to his very core” and believed “What’s right is right” (p. 29). What does this mean, and in what way does this contrast with his brother, Johannes? How does your perception of these two men change as the story continues?
6. When Solveig learns that the two skeletons are the bodies of the long-missing girls, she rushes to Gabriel’s house, triumphant and incensed. Why is she so happy, and what makes her so angry at her brother-in-law? Do you sympathize with her at this moment?
7. The surviving family members of the two missing young women, Mona and Siv, display quite different reactions to the news that the girls’ bodies have finally been identified. Discuss how their emotions differ, and what it reveals to both the reader and to Patrik about their relationship to their children.
8. At one point Robert remarks, “Life blew you one way or another, that was simply the way things were” (p. 99). How is Robert’s philosophy shaped by the breakup of his family after his father’s death? What happens later in the novel that proves Robert is not as passive as he claims to be?
9. At one point, Laine comments about Gabriel, “Behind that boring, reserved exterior was a passionate man, but he was buried so deep that she didn’t think he even realized it himself” (p. 117). Discuss Laine’s relationship with her husband. Does her view of him change by the end of the novel? How does Laine become a pivotal character in the story?
10. Gabriel and Jacob have very different memories of the family patriarch, “the Preacher,” Ephraim Hult. Discuss the differences in the way these two men view Ephraim. How does this difference in perspective affect the relationship Gabriel and Jacob have with each other, and how does it manifest itself in their lives?
11. As sisters, Anna and Erica have a loving, if fraught, relationship. Läckberg writes, “the two sisters became stuck in roles that neither of them knew how to change” (p.212). What are these roles, and how do you think they were formed?
12. Throughout the novel, Stefan and Linda carry on an illicit affair, despite the fact that they share a troubled family history. When Linda invites Stefan over to Västergården, it is a traumatic homecoming. Discuss the scene that unfolds between the two lovers. How do their perceptions of each other change in this scene? Do you think it bodes well for their relationship?
13. After coming home to a shocking discovery, Erica’s sister Anna decides to return to her estranged husband, Lucas, despite his abuse. Why does she do this? Do you understand her decision?
14. At the end of The Preacher
, the reader finally hears from Ephraim Hult himself. How do Ephraim’s thoughts and actions toward his family set in motion the events of the story? How did he misread the situation, and why are the consequences so devastating?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Camilla Läckberg’s novels take place in Fjällbacka, a small town that is a popular tourist destination in the summer months. Discuss your favorite summer vacation spots during your meeting. Bring in photos and video of your holidays to share with the group.
2. In the town square of Fjällbacka there is a statue that honors Ingrid Bergman, who often spent time there. Watch an Ingrid Bergman movie (such as Casablanca
) with your book club to hold your own memorial for the great Swedish star.
3. Erica and Patrik work together to solve the mystery. Watch the Hollywood classic The Thin Man
to see another team of romantic partners solving crimes together.
4. Read Camilla Läckberg’s first novel, The Ice Princess
, and discuss how the recurring characters evolve over the course of two books.
5. To find out more about her, Fjällbacka, and her characters, explore Camilla Läckberg’s extensive website, www.camillalackberg.com
.A Conversation with Camilla LäckbergIn your novels, Erica and Patrik work together to solve crimes. Does your husband ever help you with your writing?
Yes, since my husband is a police officer, he is very useful to me in my job as a crime writer. Some of my colleagues say it’s unfair competition for me to have my very own policeman…How do you see the relationship between Erica and Patrik evolving in this novel?
For me it was wonderful to have their initial romance in the first book evolve into a more mature relationship, to the point where they’re even starting a family. But I also love describing the difficulties that two adults, each set in their own ways face as they’re trying to adapt to each other and become a couple.Before you wrote your first novel—The Ice Princess—you worked as an economist. Did your experience in the field help you when writing Gabriel’s character and his love of numbers and accounting?
Yes, in creating him I did think of some of the people I met during my career as an economist. Personally, I have never understood that love of numbers—I prefer words! But, believe it or not, there are some actual Gabriel-like characters out there in the real world.You do a wonderful job of creating a multifaceted portrait of Anna and her abusive relationship with her husband, Lucas. What do you want the reader to come away with in regard to Anna and her situation in this novel?
I want my readers to understand Anna, and to be able to empathize with her; I want them to see why it is so difficult to be in an abusive relationship—and why it is so hard to leave.You use multiple points of view in The Preacher and in your other novels in the series. Is it difficult to inhabit the minds of so many characters?
No, that is what I love about reading, that I can get into the minds of so many different people. One of Erica and Patrik’s frustrations in the novel is the continued aggravation of having uninvited guests in their home. Coming from Fjällbacka, do you have similar problems with tourists and drop-in guests who want to take advantage of the beautiful scenery?
The story about the uninvited guests is something I drew from my own family’s experience. Unfortunately, basically everyone who lives in Fjällbacka is familiar with that problem: there are a lot of people in the world who genuinely have no manners!
You are a big reader and fan of crime fiction. Do you think it takes different skills to write a good crime novel, as opposed to good general fiction?
Yes, I think it is a different skill. In a crime novel, you have to be able to focus on the small details, the clues and pieces of a bigger puzzle, and make them #t together in a way that differs from other kinds of fiction.
On your website you have a section on the craft of crime writing, with several helpful tips and exercises. How did you develop these points?
I started writing after taking a writing course, so I learned a lot there. I have also read many books on the subject—Stephen King’s and Elizabeth George’s books on writing are among my favorites. And of course to all of that I have added my own experience and reflections, things I’ve learned in the course of writing my own series.Is there one writer that in"uenced you the most in your work?
I fell in love with crime fiction the moment I read my first Agatha Christie…so to me she is the queen of crime. What’s next for Patrik, Erica, and Anna?
I have lots in store for them in the books to follow The Preacher
Keep reading and you’ll see…