The Ice Princess

Camilla Läckberg

The American debut of internationally bestselling Swedish writer Camilla Läckberg’s haunting first novel.

 

Returning to her hometown of Fjällbacka after the funeral of her parents, writer Erica Falck finds a community on the brink of tragedy. The death of her childhood friend, Alex, is just the beginning. Her wrists slashed, her body frozen in an ice-cold bath, it seems that she has taken her own life.

 

Erica conceives a book about the beautiful but remote Alex, one that will answer questions about their own shared past. While her interest grows into an obsession, local detective Patrik Hedstrom is following his own suspicions about the case. But it is only when they start working together that the truth begins to emerge about a small town with a deeply disturbing past.

The novel begins in the small Swedish fishing village of Fjällbacka when Eilert Berg goes to the house owned by Alexandra “Alex” Wijkner to check on it. She’s only there on weekends and he’s agreed to keep an eye on it and start up the heat on Fridays so it’s ready for her weekend visits. When Berg gets to the house, he’s shocked to discover Alex’s body in the bathtub. He stumbles out of the house and tells the first person he sees, Erica Falck. Erica has returned to her home in Fjällbacka to sort through her parents’ things after their deaths. She also wants to make progress on a biography she’s writing. She’s especially shocked to hear of Alex’s death because the two women were best friends as little children. She alerts the police, and they begin their investigation. Erica finds herself drawn to the memory of Alex whom she hadn’t really seen for twenty-five years and decides to write a book about her – to begin to get to know Alex as an adult.In the meantime, police officer Patrik Hedström and his team begin asking official questions about Alex’s death. At first it looks like a suicide but very quickly it’s proven that she was murdered. So Hedström starts to look among Alex’s family members, friends and colleagues tot find out who would want to kill her. At the same time, Erica is asking questions, too. Both of them come to the same conclusion: Alex was a very enigmatic person who never really got close to anyone, not even her husband Henrik. She was an intensely private person but more and more, Patrik and Erica begin to believe that Alex was keeping some dark secrets from the past and that those secrets may be the reason she was killed.

The setting – the small fishing village and its culture – plays a major role in this novel. There’s a strong dose of “What will people think?” throughout. For instance, that’s part of the reason for which Anna doesn’t leave Lucas. In small towns such as Fjällbacka, everyone knows everyone’s business and that fact is key to the story.

The physical setting is also an important element in this novel. Läckberg places the reader unmistakeably in the location and that adds to the story: It’s also worth noting that the time of year – winter – is another element in this novel. The cold, the long dark nights and the snow add to the story’s mood.

This being a small-town crime novel, the characters in the novel also form a strong element. Both Patrik and Erica are intelligent, interesting people. Neither is perfect, but both are believable and have depths. Erica, for instance, is grieving the loss of her parents and worried about her sister and she deals with those problems in an authentic way. Patrik is dealing with the recent breakup of his marriage and the awkwardness of being “in the market” again.

The most interesting and enigmatic character in the novel is Alex herself. Through the perspectives of various other characters, we get to know some things about her. We do learn some of her secrets and we learn a lot about why she is the way she is. But we never get to see her as a complete, three-dimensional person. Rather, we see her as through the prism of others’ perspectives.The mystery itself and the reason for the two deaths make sense when we know the truth.

The Ice Princess has a touch of the police procedural as its evidence-gathering, interviews and so on that lead to the truth more than anything else. It also has a strong element of setting and context. It’s a sad story of the way the past affects the present, made lighter by some funny moments and some solid characters.

Review by Margot Kinberg, Confessions of a Mystery Writer

About Camilla Läckberg:

Born in 1974, Camilla Läckberg graduated from Gothenburg University of Economics, before moving to Stockholm where she worked for a few years as an economist. However, a course in creative crime writing became the trigger to a drastic change of career. Her first four novels all became Swedish bestsellers.

Läckberg's books are always set in or around her birthplace, the small Swedish west coast town of Fjällbacka. She lives in a suburb of Stockholm, with her husband Martin.