In preparation for my trip to Sweden I thought that it was time for me to read some Camilla Lackberg, especially as in essence Camilla was the reason that I was being sent off to her homeland of Fjallbacka by the lovely people at West Sweden tourism. Well believe you me I had many an offer to lend me a copy of The Ice Princess (you have to start at the beginning of a series don’t you?) because it turned out Camilla has a lot of fans in my office, which shouldn’t be a surprise as she has sold over 9,000,000 copies of her books. I have always meant to read her novels, partly because people like Gav have raved so much about her, yet been hesitant to start a new series of crime novels (as I think I am addicted to about five already, aren’t we all?) Fortunately Lackberg’s novels do stand out from the crowd…
Upon her return to her hometown following the death of her parents, Erica Falck begins to feel that death and tragedy might be following her when her childhood friend Alex is found dead in the bath with her wrists slashed. Erica and Alex’s friendship had however waned after Alex suddenly stopped speaking to her before leaving in her pre-teens. The bonds have not been forgotten by Alex’s parents who, as Erica is a semi-successful writer of biographies and has become a small celebrity in Fjallbacka, ask her to write about their daughter.
In doing so Erica starts to discover that the perfect life Alex had created wasn’t all that she made people believe and that there were many secrets in her past. It soon dawns on Erica that Alex may not have committed suicide at all, but who would want to kill her? Subsequently local detective in charge of the case Patrik Hedstrom is coming to the same conclusion and it looks like something from Alex’s past has returned to haunt her, but what and why?
It was eerie stepping into the shadowy house. Her fear of the dark made it hard for her to breathe, and she forced herself to take some deep breaths to calm her nerves. She thankfully remembered the torch in her coat pocket and said a silent prayer that the batteries were good. They were. The light from the torch made her feel a bit calmer.
You might be thinking this sounds very like a lot of other thrillers, be they cold crime or not, out there however Lackberg does several things that make this different. Firstly she invests heavily in her characters, Erica and Patrik come fully formed off the page foibles and all. Erica is restless with a longing for her homeland yet a desire to escape it and a small yearning to settle down despite herself, there is also the complicated relationship with her sister who she has become slightly estranged from due to her violent abusive husband. Patrik too is at a cross roads in his life after a failed marriage but guess what, he is actually a decent guy – no signs of being a bastard in the office or having a drink problem insight, which we see so often in this genre.
It would be true to say that The Ice Princess is not a thriller which has a plot which whizzes you into a page turning frenzy, yet we don’t always want that do we? It has a slower pace and uses other ways to grip the reader. After all there are other things that keep you reading on as the plot slowly twists and turns when more is brought to light about Alex and the mysteries surrounding both her life and death. The biggest being the town of Fjallbacka, where the mystery is set, and the people who inhabit it – obviously the fictional ones.
As we learn more about the village Fjallbacka itself becomes one of the main characters as Lackberg slowly builds its streets and its people, and the cast of peripheral characters and their stories within the stories are marvellous. Characters such as the lonely old woman who collects Santa’s and shows them off in her house so children come to visit her or a man so caught up in OCD that he dare not leave the house add to the layers of the setting and the book itself. These also add layers in terms of themes for the book be it loneliness, people stuck in unhappy marriages, grief and in the case of Erica’s sister the very big theme of domestic violence which often is harder to read than the murders as they start to rise.
Lackberg also throws the love story between Erica and Patrik into The Ice Princess. Now before I get accused of spoilers we learn very swiftly that Patrik and Erica know each other from their youths and he had a mammoth crush on her, so its hinted at from the off. I was really worried as I was thinking it was going to be really saccharine, in fact it is wonderfully developed and adds lightness to the book which does get darker and darker. If that wasn’t enough there is more. As someone who loves books and reading about them or the writing process there is also an interesting theme in The Ice Princess as Erica goes from writing her biographies to writing what might be her first novel. As the book continues we almost follow an author fictionally writing about writing, which gives the book another dynamic in a way.
At first, when she’d thought that Alex’s death was suicide, she’d considered writing a book to answer the question ‘why?’ It would have been more of a biography. Now the material was increasingly taking the shape of a crime novel, a genre to which she’d never felt particularly attracted. It was people – their relationships and psychological motivations – that she was interested in; she thought that was something most crime novels had to give up in favour of bloody murders and cold shivers running down the spine.
So all in all if you like your crime thrillers to be more than just twist after twist after page turning twist then I would recommend you give The Ice Princess a whirl. It is one of those crime novels that not only has a mystery, and indeed a rather grim and horrendous one, at its heart but also looks at the way a murder affects the characters and the place around it with multiple layers and facets. It seems I might have a new crime series to regularly dip in and out of.
In truth I have already read the first three, more on those soon, and if that wasn’t enough in my next post I will be taking you on a tour of the town of Fjallbacka and some of its murder sites. I really do spoil you rotten don’t I? In the meantime though who else had read The Ice Princess and Lackberg’s series and what have you made of them?
This post is the first in a week of Savidge Reads in Sweden after I was sent by the lovely people at the West Sweden Tourist Board to go on a cold crime adventure.