As recently noted in these venerable pages, Swedish crime author Camilla Läckberg was recently the beneficiary of a multi-book deal in the U.S. to release at least the first few of her already terribly popular crime novel series featuring author Erica Falck and her partner, Detective Patrik Hedstrom. I can honestly say that I have been looking forward to these books being released in the US for years. They were translated into English and published in Canada and the UK some years ago, but for some reason I’d been holding out and waiting for a US release, rather than ordering them from the UK.
After a build up like that, you might expect that even a good book would be anti-climactic, but Läckberg’s first novel,The Ice Princess, really pays off. It’s a great read–so great, in fact, that less than a week after I finished it, I ordered the follow up novel, The Preacher, from the Book Depository. I’ll leave my thoughts on that one for a later post, but for now, you can read my review of The Ice Princess below or on Reviewing the Evidence.
Also–any of you interested in Läckberg, her novels, or her hometown of Fjällbacka, Sweden, may want to check out her English language website, which even includes a pretty good tutorial on writing crime novels: http://www.camillalackberg.com/
The publication of The Ice Princess, the first novel by Camilla Läckberg – the proclaimed “Agatha Christie of Sweden” – heralds the arrival of a major Scandinavian talent on American shores. Although Läckberg is one of the most successful authors in her home country and a best seller in in the UK and much of Europe, her novels are only now finding their way to the US Translated by Steven T. Murray (who can count both Henning Mankell and Stig Larsson among his credits), The Ice Princess is a crisp, and well-paced character study which in its best moments recalls the perceptive empathy and small-town claustrophobia of Karin Fossum’s Don’t Look Back.
The Ice Princess opens with the arresting image of a beautiful woman frozen in a bathtub, her wrists slit. It soon becomes clear, however, that although Alexandra Wijkner kept many secrets from those closest to her, she undoubtedly did not commit suicide. The official investigation into Alex’s death is led by up-and-coming Detective Patrik Hedstrom, but it is Erica Falk – a childhood friend of Alex’s who actually found her in the tub – who is actually able to get closest to those in Alex’s life and discover the real circumstances leading to her murder.
The novel is as much about Erica’s life as it is about Alex’s death. She’s an admirable protagonist–empathetic and perceptive, resilient but just a little bit vulnerable. A successful biographer who would much rather be able to write her own stories, Erica has returned to her small hometown of Fjällbacka in order to settle the affairs of her recently deceased parents and finish work on her latest, but faltering, book project. As if these troubles weren’t enough to deal with, her once inviolable relationship with her younger sister Anna has begun to deteriorate because of escalating problems with Anna’s domineering husband.
In a lesser novel, this ever-increasing volume of tension and tragedy would be overwhelming, but Läckberg has a talent for balancing her dark subject matter with a dash of humor and even some hopefulness. Comic relief comes in the rotund form of Patrik’s self-important, brutish boss, and the perpetual turmoil in Erica’s life is somewhat alleviated as she falls into a passionate romance with Patrik.
The Ice Princess also succeeds in creating an unlikely web of connection among the residents of Fjällbacka. Läckberg deftly reveals the relationships between a wealthy dowager and the inelegant daughter of a working class family; between a slovenly alcoholic artist and the CEO of a successful cannery. These revelations always seem natural, never reading like the clumsy coincidences that are sometimes found in small town dramas.
An astute and entertaining murder mystery, The Ice Princess introduces a cast of well-developed, intriguing characters who readers will look forward to meeting again. After all, “homicide investigations are about people,” as Patrik explains during the case. So, for that matter, are good crime novels.