The Ice Princess
Author: Camilla Läckberg (Translated from Swedish by Steven T. Murray)
Free Press, 2011 (originally published in 2002)
Camilla Läckberg was about to release her fifth book translated into English (The Hidden Child -- not yet available in the USA), I knew I had some catching up to do. I believe in starting at the beginning whenever possible, and The Ice Princess is the first in this series. (Yes, I was late to the party, but at least I arrived.)
The plot goes like this: While temporarily staying in her hometown of Fjällbacka on the coast of Sweden (which is also the author's hometown) after a family tragedy, writer Erica Falck finds her childhood friend Alex dead, a victim of a brutal murder. Alex was a physically attractive girl who grew into a beautiful woman, and seemed to have all of life's successes. Distracted by current events, Erica finds herself drawn into Alex's world as she tries to unravel the mysteries of her former friend's life. One of the mysteries is why Alex ended their friendship so suddenly all those years ago, when they were only ten years old. Turns out this is something that had hurt Erica very deeply.
Another mystery is Alex's connection to one of the town drunks, a brilliant artist whose difficult life has undoubtedly contributed to his current state. Evidence suggests a relationship between the dead woman and the artist, which blows everyone's minds and makes him an easy target to pin the murder on. Erica's path soon converges with Patrik Hedström, another old school friend and now local police officer. Their relationship grows as the story progresses, and soon Erica is questioning whether she'll ever return to her old life in Stockholm.
There are lots of secondary characters in The Ice Princess, and it seems as if all of them are struggling with some sort of challenge or secret. In particular is Erica's sister Anna, who's trapped in an abusive marriage. The author skillfully describes the terror of an abuse victim, and I'll admit that I found myself wishing for the abuser to suffer some sort of twisted yet karmic fate.
The writing (translation) is excellent; getting inside the heads of the various characters held my interest and I didn't stress over the 400+ pages or mind that it took me a little longer than usual. Some might argue that the outcome is predictable. I sort of guessed what was going on fairly early, but only in a big-picture sense.
Based on the first part of the book, I assumed that The Ice Princess was the first book in a series featuring Erica Falck, writer. That was refreshing, being that so many crime novels out there feature a male police officer/detective/whatever as the main character. At some point Patrik seemed to overtake Erica as the main character, and alas, the series is indeed known as the Patrik Hedström series. I can live with that, because I actually like Patrik as a character. It'll be interesting to see where the series takes him -- and where it takes Erica, if indeed she goes along for the ride.
Bottom line: The Ice Princess is an engaging "first in a series" that should appeal to those who enjoy Scandinavian crime novels in the vein of Stieg Larsson, Jo Nesbø, Karin Fossum, etc. If you enjoy getting into the heads of characters, and reading "daily life" stuff going on behind the scenes, you'll really like this one. I read somewhere online that Camilla Läckberg is one of the best-selling authors in all of Europe, and now I know why. Check her out.