Lackberg, Camilla - 'The Ice Princess' (translated by Steven T Murray)
THE ICE PRINCESS is the first in the Erica Falck series set in the real-life small Swedish coastal town of Fjallbacka. Erica Falck is an author of biographies of prominent Swedish female writers and has returned home to finish the unhappy task of clearing her parents' home after a car-crash has left her and her younger sister, Anna, as orphans. At the same time, she is trying to finish writing her much delayed book.
One winter's day Erica is asked by a distressed fellow townsman to go into the house of her former school-friend as he has discovered something dreadful. Her friend, from whom she was once inseparable, is lying dead in a bath, her wrists slashed, the water frozen. The dead woman Alex Wijkner looks to have committed suicide and her parents ask Erica to write a commemorative article about their daughter. This leads Erica to thinking about whether she could make a book out of Alex's life and death, her first piece of fiction, though modelled on Alex.
One of Erica's first interviews is with Alex's friend and gallery co-owner Francine who tells Erica that there's no-way that Alex was suicidal – she was expecting a baby and overjoyed at the prospect.
Meanwhile the death is being investigated by the local police force headed by Bertil Mellberg, who denies his hair loss with an elaborately constructed comb-over. He has been downsized to Tanumshede after making mistakes at Gothenburg. One of his team is Patrik Hedstrom who is an old friend of Erica's and who had an enormous crush on her back in their school days. Alex's death is soon identified as murder by the post mortem examination and Mellberg sees his future (in Gothenburg) lies in wrapping up the case swiftly.
Erica and Patrik's paths overlap when she accompanies Alex's family to the police-station and a relationship soon ensues. To counterbalance this pleasant (and amusingly portrayed) event, Erica has to deal with family issues regarding her loathsome brother-in-law who wants to force Erica and Anna to sell their family home so that he and Anna can move back to his home country of England.
THE ICE PRINCESS is a fairly leisurely tale which, as with a lot of the Scandinavian crime fiction being translated recently, has a heavy emphasis on the characters and building the world in which the crimes occur. The answer to the crime in this case lies in the past and the current tragedy can be laid squarely at the feet of those who should have known better. The small town setting has a very 'Karin Fossum' feel to it. As well as the investigations carried out by Erica and Patrik there's also the matter of how they get together - both of them behaving like teenagers eg deliberating as to what to wear and going round with a permanent grin in the case of Patrik.
There's a strong sense of place and the cold weather is well evoked. I hadn't realised until afterwards that Fjallbacka is a real place and that a tv-series of the books, is also filmed there.
A couple of things niggled me, such as Erica withholding vital evidence for a while and also the author's trick of letting the character get some vital piece of information but not telling the reader what it was. I enjoyed THE ICE PRINCESS, it was a comfortable, cosy read, but I didn't find myself desperate to pick it up, though I did become immersed when I did so. I shall definitely read the next one and maybe the personal relationship side between Erica and Patrik will have moved to the background a little and the mystery angle will be to the fore.
Karen Meek, England