I first came across Camilla Läckberg when she was mentioned in an article on Scandinavian mystery writers in Romantic Times. I became even more intrigued when I read the review on the front of The Ice Princess from Val McDermid –“Heart-stopping and heart-warming.” “Heart-warming?” That certainly made me pause. After all, “heartwarming” is not an adjective I expect to read describing a murder mystery, and a Scandinavian mystery at that, which tend to be characterized by their wintry settings and bleak atmosphere. But after finishing this book, I couldn’t help but agree with Ms. McDermid’s review.
The two protagonists and primary investigators –Erica Falck, a biography writer, and Patrik Hedström, a local policeman – both grew up in the sleepy fishing village of Fjällbacka, Sweden. This village, overrun by visitors from Stockholm in the summer, desolate and empty during the bleak winter months, has definitely seen better days. The Ice Princess is definitely not a “cozy” mystery, but the blossoming relationship between Erica and Patrik, as well as the various familial bonds that lace the narrative, help to temper the sadness and gloom surrounding the murder.
Following the sudden death of her parents, Erica returns to her hometown and soon discovers the body of a beloved childhood friend, Alexandra Wijkner, frozen in her bathtub. As a biography writer, Erica is seized with the impulse to write about her one-time, enigmatic friend and the reasons that could drive a woman who seemed to have everything to commit suicide. But, as any seasoned mystery reader will guess, Alexandra’s apparent suicide is only the beginning. As Erica begins to delve into Alexandra’s past, Patrik begins to investigate his own suspicions surrounding her death.
A picture of the victim begins to build. Alex was beautiful, blonde, icy, and remote – everything this reader wants in a Swedish noir mystery. And, like any good victim, she was hiding a deep, dark secret that somehow seems to involve the tragic figure of the town drunk, Anders Nilsson. No one in the village can understand how these two disparate figures were connected, least of all Erica and Patrik.
The Ice Princess features tragic childhood secrets, mysterious disappearances, and bribery, all set against the backdrop of the bleak Scandinavian winter. Fans of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo will enjoy this mystery, although it focuses less on social issues and politics, and is more in the vein of a traditional mystery.
The novel has a wide cast of characters, and the author continually introduces new characters to keep her readers guessing. We meet Erica’s family, her ex-boyfriend, the victim’s family, and the motley crew of police officers at the local police station, including Mellberg, the pompous, slimy, self-obsessed monster of a police chief, who is both hilarious and horrendous at the same time.
This is a great winter read, perfect for a cold night, curled up with a blanket. Camilla Läckberg is one of Sweden’s bestselling crime novelists and The Ice Princess was her first novel. If you gobble this one up as quickly as I did, never fear! WRL has two more in the series, which have been translated into English.
Check the WRL catalog for The Ice Princess.