Camilla Läckberg’s crime novel The Ice Princess debuted in Sweden in 2003. From then on, every year for seven years, she’s published a new story of murder in the real-life Swedish fishing town of Fjällbacka, where Läckberg grew up, with huge popularity for the series. While she’s the #1 female crime writer in Sweden, Läckberg’s debut is just this summer arriving in the U.S. via publisher Pegasus Books –translated by Steven T. Murray and fresh on the heels of the American love fest for fellow Swede Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy.
The principal characters of The Ice Princess are Erica Falck, a writer of biographies, and Patrik Hedström, a local detective. Erica has returned to her hometown Fjälbacka from Stockholm to clean out her parent’s house and settle the estate after their death in a car accident. She takes a walk for a writing break and is waved down by local townsman Eilert Berg, who’s discovered the dead body of the beautiful, removed Alexandra Wijkner — she’s half-frozen in her bathtub. Erica takes an interest in what happened to her long-lost childhood best friend, and what unfolds – with intricately rendered psychological detail and connections between characters – is a town secret.
The book’s strength is the multi-layered plot. While the murder is being solved by Patrik and Erica, a love story blossoms between them. There’s also a disturbing struggle between Erica and her sister Anna over the sale of the family house, creating tension.
Many townspeople make appearances and, because they’re treated more than bit players to move the plot, they become singularly engaging for their place in this small “everybody knows everybody” coastal setting. An example is the strong but minor role of police superintendent Mellberg, a conceited, imperfect man who’s been outcast to small town police work for his failure in the larger nearby city of Göteborg. He believes solving the murder of Alexandra Wijkner will reprieve his shunned status, even though it’s Patrik who works the case. As disgusting a person as he is, with his long hair wound into a crow’s nest on the top of his head to hide his bald spot, Mellberg is a kick.
Verdict: The first 100 pages are slow going, with much of the set-up taking place. Also, overused, common reactions spot an otherwise original narrative. They’re easy to forgive and breeze past under the spell of the mystery and the psychological interplay among characters. This is a story rich and intriguing on many levels. I’m not an avid reader of mysteries/crime novels; however, I’ll follow Läckberg’s Fjällbacka series because of the depth she brings to her stories beyond a mere whodunnit.