Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Ice Princess

by Camilla Lӓckberg; translated by Steven T. Murray
New York, Free Press, 2011
391 pages,     Fiction

“He followed Erica out to the kitchen. ‘Would you like some coffee?’”

Precious Romotswe solves crimes in Botswana while drinking cup after cup of bush tea. In Sweden, crimes are solved with cup after cup of coffee. I chuckled as I began reading The Ice Princess by Camilla Lӓckberg and the first cup of coffee was served. I should have kept count. After reading the first Stieg Larsson “girl who” mystery, one of my friends commented, “Why all the coffee?” Her comment amused me because my sister and I, having grown up in northern Minnesota among generations of Swedes had read right over the coffee anecdotes. It was nothing unusual for us!

The Ice Princess is a small-town murder mystery set in the coastal village of Fjӓllbacka, Sweden. It is the first in the series of mysteries starring Patrik Hedstrӧm, a local police detective. This first book, however, focuses on Erica Falck, an author who has returned to the village of her birth to clean out her parent’s house and write her fourth book. During the first week of her visit, she finds her beautiful childhood friend, Alex, dead—frozen in the bathtub of her unheated house—an ice princess. Erica decides to write a book about her friend, and begins to do some detective work on her own.

The mystery evolves in a rather leisurely manner, but there are enough twists and turns, interesting characters, and human suffering to keep the reader turning the pages, engrossed in it all. One delightful characteristic of this book is that there is quite a bit of humor. Police Superintendent Mellberg is a choice character, probably one of the most finely drawn characters in the book. He has a comb-over that causes all sorts of problems.

“’I’ve got him! I’ve got Alex Wijkner’s murderer.’ Mellberg was so beside himself with excitement that he didn’t notice that his comb-over had slipped down over one ear.”

The romance between Erica and Patrik blooms in the course of the investigation. There are a couple of delightful scenes in which Patrik renews his childhood passion for Erica, and Erica realizes that there may be more romance in Fjӓllbacka than in Stockholm. One reviewer suggested that the humor is retained because of the skillful translation of Steven Murray. As a pompous former pastor of mine used to say in the midst of a high-and-mighty sermon, “A little humor is good.”

More than humor, there is more than enough human misery to spread around. Like all small town mysteries, there are secrets everywhere, many kept under the surface for more than 25 years. No one lives in isolation, and the children are never privy to the adult gossip. Alcoholism, rape, spousal abuse, mysterious adoptions, and illicit affairs fill the pages and keep the reader guessing throughout the book. In speaking of Fjӓllbacka, Lӓckberg says, “It’s a place I know very well. I think a small town is more interesting and dynamic than a big city. It’s the setting that gives the flavor.” Läckberg says the town’s history has shaped its inhabitants – and her characters. “The people there don’t take things for granted and always want to be one step ahead of fate. I try to bring that out in my books as well.”

Camilla Lӓckberg is a successful Swedish novelist. This is the first of her books to be translated for the American market. The second book, The Preacher, also features Patrik and Erica. It is slated for release in 2012. USA Today calls her genre “Nordic noir” and says that her writing is “precisely layered.” One reviewer suggested that she improves with each additional book. I enjoyed The Ice Princess and will be looking forward to the next.

I received this book as part of a blog tour sponsored by the publisher. I most likely would have picked it up on my own, but it has been fun to be part of the tour.

Here is a review by a blogger of Scandinavian books:

Here is a brief review in USA Today:

Here is Camilla Lӓckberg’s website: It includes a section about Fjӓllbacka.


Stephanie M. Hasty said...

i love your review!
i also love your blog header! :)

Yvonne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Yvonne said...

(Opps...had to delete my comment due to typos.)

Great indepth review!
Here's mine

Dana Wright said...

Great review!