Monday, June 14, 2010

*The Ice Princess, by Camilla Läckberg

Pegasus Books
Originally published as Isprinsessan, 2002
trans. Steven T. Murray

Erica Falck, the main character of this story, is a writer of biographies of famous women. However, after her childhood friend Alex Carlgren-Wijkner is found dead, Alex's family asks Erica to write a commemoration of her life for the local newspaper in Fjällbacka, where Alex lived until age 10 and where she was later found dead in her parents' old home.  Erica does the article, but decides that she would like to write more about Alex - maybe a book. While working on her draft, she noticed that
...the material was increasingly taking on the form of a crime novel, a genre to which she'd never felt particularly attracted. It was people -- their relationships and psychological motivations -- that she was interested in; she thought that was something most crime novels had to give up in favour of bloody murders and cold shivers running down the spine. (112)
Lackberg, like her creation Erica Falck, is also interested in the "relationships and psychological motivations" of the people in her novel.  Alex Wijkner, the dead woman, is an enigma. She was Erica's best friend until one day Alex and her family moved away without saying goodbye. As Erica set to work interviewing people who knew her, Erica came to realize that everyone loved Alex, but nobody really knew her, because Alex never really got close enough to anyone to reveal herself.  But evidently someone wanted Alex out of the way, because now she's dead. But why? What possible motivation could anyone have to want to do away with her, since she was so widely admired? As Erica plunges deeper into Alex's life, she realizes that while the who is important, the why also continues to elude her. For help she turns to an old admirer, Patrik Hedstrom, now a police officer, who can go places Erica cannot, and together they begin to peel back Alex's complicated story, layer by layer. They also come to realize that some people will go to great lengths to prevent this story from coming out so as to protect secrets long hidden and buried away. 

The author's unraveling of  "psychological motivations" behind Alex's death is very well done, eked out little by little, creating a good deal of suspense until all is finally revealed. To start with such an enigmatic victim is a good move and a great way to ensure reader interest until the end. And setting the novel in the small town of Fjällbacka emphasizes the fact that a) tensions can run high in a small town or community where everyone knows your business or at least wants to, and b) murder can happen anywhere, not just in big cities. There is also a nice sense of place evoked here, while at the same time a familiar lament comes through regarding the beauty of this seaside town being wrecked by tourists, although the money from people on their vacations is badly needed. All of these things combined make The Ice Princess  a good read.

But perhaps there is too much emphasis on the "personal relationships" mentioned above. As long as the examination of personal relationships and the character development are pertinent and therefore necessary to the crime, I'm very interested. Human beings and their psyches are, after all, at the root of all crime, and one reason Scandinavian crime fiction authors are among my favorites is because they are very good at creating very human and complicated people, both good guys and bad.  But when the characters slip into lengthy romantic interludes or comic diversions that pull me away from the plot, then I'm distracted.  I realize this is a personal thing I have with crime fiction & mysteries, and I had to think about my own reading prejudices before trying to set down my thoughts about this book. I happen to be one of those people mentioned by Lackberg via Erica who prefers the "bloody murders and the cold shivers running down the spine,"  and I like my crime more streamlined, complicated and somewhat creepy.  For me, there was a bit too much time turned over to romance in this story, and in that aspect, it reminded me more of some cozy novels I used to read. While Erica and Patrik's growing relationship probably helps to make them more rounded characters, I found myself doing the quick skim through these parts to get back to the crime. The romance scenes tended to break up the suspense of what was going on with Alex's death and I couldn't wait to get back to the revelations at hand. The same was true with the scenes at the police station, with the parts featuring the ineptitude of a few of the local cops. While those scenes provided some comic relief, I didn't think I needed any -- again, I was much more focused on the crime and getting back to the main plotline. But then again, that's just me.

I failed to guess the who and the why, so that's a very good thing, and overall, the main thrust of the story was well written with a good plotline and good mystery at its core. This book has received many excellent reviews, and I would recommend it, despite my nigglings above. And I plan to read the other books in this series as well, so obviously I liked it.

 fiction from Sweden


  1. This sounds really good and an interesting look at the psychology in biography - writing about somebody's life kind of inevitably leads to a little psychology, amateur or otherwise - and even though this is fictional, it sounds as though it plays nicely with that idea.

    Great review, thanks for sharing


  2. Great review and I agree with pretty much everything you said but I'm similar to you in that I prefer less of the romance and more of the creepiness - not sure what that says about me but I've stopped worrying about it :)

  3. @Hannah - thanks for your comment. If you want to read a really good fictional novel about the psychology (and politics) of biographical writing, you might want to try J.M. Coetzee's Summertime. It puts a whole new spin on the genre.

    @Bernadette: Thanks so much! I've stopped worrying about the romance issue as well. It's hard to avoid these days in many cases, but I do my best!

  4. I just got this in the mail yesterday, and will be back to read your review when I've finished the book. So,so exciting all this Scandinavian crime fiction!

  5. Great review. This is on my TBR shelf and while I won't be rushing to read it, I'm not going to pull it off either. Thanks!

  6. You're welcome. Like I said, I do plan on reading her other books.

  7. You've added another book to my TBR pile! Nice review!

  8. Thanks! That's the problem with reading other people's reviews for tbr pile increases pretty much daily.


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