The dark days of winter are upon us. What better way to ride them out than curled up on your couch with a good crime novel! Loveable characters, bone-chilling murders, captivating settings, and diabolical twists and turns will keep you guessing until the last chapter in The Ice Princess. Camilla Läckberg’s book presents a delightful entrée into one constellation in the galaxy of Scandinavian crime fiction. Originally published in Sweden in 2003, the book became a bestseller and was eventually translated into English. Today, it is the first in a continuing series featuring Detective Patrik Hedström.
What would you do if you found a childhood friend floating dead in a frozen bathtub? This is the scene that Erica, Patrik’s partner, faces in the opening chapter. Gristly for sure, but Läckberg’s books differ from others in the genre; the characters are warmer and more down-to-earth, the atmosphere is more intimate, and the themes —although serious— are less hard-hitting and presented less darkly.
Readers who find the writing of Henning Mankell too serious will find Läckberg’s quirky, small-town characters refreshing. One of my favorites is bumbling Chief Inspector Mellberg, Patrik’s boss, who is obsessed with winning a new job in “the big city.” Läckberg often entangles characters within complex webs of family relationships which they must navigate through to solve crimes and sort out their own lives.
Set in the quaint, seaside town of Fjällbacka (one-time residence of Ingrid Bergman), The Ice Princess also offers readers a peak into the geography, culture, and dramatic climate of Western Sweden. Readers accustomed to solving murders in the English countryside alongside Miss Marple will enjoy the cozy winter scenes in Erica’s family home and island-hopping in the summer alongside Patrik.
Readers who are new to Scandinavian crime fiction may be initially challenged by the Swedish names, but I would encourage perseverance; after a few chapters the umlauts will seem like second nature (those are the two dots above the vowels). I guarantee that once you’ve read The Ice Princess you’ll be on to Patrik and Erica’s next adventure in The Preacher.
Bottom line: I highly recommend The Ice Princess to readers who love a good mystery with memorable characters and minimal gory murder details. Four out of five stars.
If you like The Ice Princess, try…
Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell is, in many ways, the story that started it all. Originally published in 1991, this novel features the now iconic Kurt Wallander and introduced the world to the dark and fascinating genre of Scandinavian crime fiction. Faceless Killers is the first in a series featuring Wallander; the most recent volume The Troubled Man was published in 2011. The GPL also has a selection of television adaptations of the Wallander mysteries. The BBC productions feature Kenneth Branagh and the Swedish series (available with English subtitles) stars Krister Henriksson.
On the other hand, if your novels can’t come dark enough, try the works of John Ajvide Lindqvist. Dubbed “the Stephen King of Sweden” Lindqvist’s books have no shortage of blood and gore, but also present fascinating characters, universal themes, and thrilling plots that will keep you turning pages well into the wee hours. Lindqvist’s book Let Me In (originally titled Let the Right One In) was recently adapted into two successful films, one performed in Swedish with subtitles, the other performed in English and set in the United States. Both DVDs are available at the GPL and both are worth watching… but perhaps not over dinner.