‘Hidden In Snow’ – The Åre Murders #1- by Viveca Sten

On the day Stockholm police officer Hanna Ahlander’s personal and professional lives crash, she takes refuge at her sister’s lodge in the Swedish ski resort paradise of Åre. But it’s a brief comfort. The entire village is shaken by the sudden vanishing of a local teenage girl. Hanna can’t help but investigate, and while searching for the missing person, she lands a job with the local police department. There she joins forces with Detective Inspector Daniel Lindskog, who has been tasked with finding the girl. Their only lead: a scarf in the snow.

As subzero temperatures drop even further, a treacherous blizzard sweeps toward Åre. Hanna and Daniel’s investigation is getting more desperate by the hour. Lost or abducted, either way time is running out for the missing girl. Each new clue closes in on something far more sinister than either Hanna or Daniel imagined. In this devious novel by the bestselling author of the Sandhamn Murders series, discover what it will take to solve a case when the truth can be so easily hidden in the coming storm.

‘Hidden In Snow’ immersed me in the sharp cold of the mountains in winter, got me engaged with the personal lives of two very different police officers and gave me a mild mystery to solve. For the most part, I found it entertaining but I didn’t like the ending or the way in which it was told. I’m interested enough in the people to take a look at the next book in the series but I’d be hoping that the next instalment would have a better storytelling structure.

The things that worked best for me about this book were the setting, the insight into teenagers and the entanglement in the personal lives of the two main police officers and of the family of Amanda, the missing girl.

Viveca Sten captured the feeling of being in the mountains in winter when the snowstorms are rolling in, the temperatures are lethally low but the beauty of the landscape makes you want to venture outdoors. I miss being in the mountains and I even miss the cold.

The plot of ‘Hidden In The Snow’ depends on understanding how teenagers see the world: the secrets they’ll keep, the people they feel free to talk to, and how they react when they are confronted with something that they feel is wrong. I thought the characters of Amanda and her best friend Ebba were well-drawn and credible.

I liked that Viveca Sten didn’t pull any punches when dealing with the fear, guilt and grief felt by Amanda’s family. This was more than a plot device. It was, rightly I thought, given more weight than solving the mystery of Amanda’s disappearance.

The main focus of the book was to get the reader engaged with the two police officers that I imagine the rest of the series will be built around. That worked, in as much as I spent more time thinking about the police officers than about the solution to the mystery. I did struggle a little with the viability of the cops themselves. The female cop has poor impulse control, a strong desire to please and difficulty with trust. Together these things repeatedly led her to do things that were risky and illegal and likely to either cost her her job or get her killed. The male cop can’t control his temper enough to avoid violent fits of rage, is useless at communicating with the press although his role requires it and has no ability to balance his home and work life. Personally, I’d counsel both of them to look for a different profession.

My main criticism of the book was how the ending was structured. Most of the book is a detailed account of events in a few days in December. So detailed that there are multiple chapters per day. This worked well, keeping the focus tight, moving the action forward and creating a feeling of tension and urgency. This structure is followed right up to the point where the mystery is solved and the guilty are arrested. It might have been a good thing to stop there. Instead, I got a chapter telling me in detail what happened to Amanda. It was a good chapter and one that I imagine the author had to have imagined in detail in order to write the book, but including it here, after the tension has dissipated felt clumsy. Then we suddenly move forward some months so that we can get the outcome of the trial (Wow, can you really get a big trial done that quickly in Sweden? Here, in the UK, it would take years). There was nothing wrong with the conclusions reached but I thought the sudden move forward in time made the story feel disjointed. It left me wondering what the two police officers had been up to in the intervening months. Overall, the ending felt like the author giving in to a compulsion to explain everything and tidy everything up. I’d have preferred something a little messier.

Viveca Sten is a Swedish writer and lawyer.

She had a successful legal career including being General Counsel at PostNord.

In 2011 she began to write full time. She is best known for the Sandhamn Murders series which currently stands at ten books. Hidden In The Snow is the first book of a new series.

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