Camilla Läckberg among Sweden’s finest exports

Camilla Läckberg is the top-selling novelist in her native Sweden, the sixth highest-selling writer in France and has sold an excess of five million books in 30 countries.

Her first novel, The Ice Princess, was published in Sweden in 2003 when Läckberg was 29, a discontented economist fresh out of a fiction-writing workshop that her husband, mother and brother gave her as a present. To say that she’s a phenom is an understatement; to miss reading The Ice Princess is a mistake.

Erica Falck, a mid-list writer of women’s biographies, returns to her small, isolated costal village of Fjällbacka to settle the affairs of her recently deceased parents. Her winter arrival coincides with the bizarre death of her childhood best friend, Alex Wijkner, whom she hasn’t seen or heard from in 25 years. Found dead and frozen in a bathtub of her parents’ summer home with her wrists slashed, suicide is presumed and the gossip mill begins churning.

Wijkner’s parents arrive as a cursory police investigation ensues under the direction of a memorable buffoon of a superintendent, and Erica is asked by the bereaved parents to write a befitting memorial to their daughter. Way ahead of the official investigation into Alex’s death, Erica informally teams up with police investigator Patrik Hedstrom and the obvious becomes murky as the small-town inhabitants become more ensnared by their provincial secrets.

This is a lovely story written by a young woman who aspires to nothing but writing well. The Scandinavians, especially the Swedes, have cornered the market on dark crime fiction. The winters are long, lives are bleak and mysteries gain easy root. Läckberg’s prose is refreshingly simple yet filled with depth as her characters unwillingly reveal the longings and misgivings of their lives.

Tension is never slackened from the first page, thrust along with the first-person musings of an unnamed character who visits Alex in her ice tomb every day for a week before she’s discovered, proclaiming a deeper love now in death than ever before. Alex, of course, has been murdered, but we find out why and by whom almost indirectly as Läckberg builds her characters gently and with qualities and failings unexceptional to us all.

Camilla Läckberg’s latest book in translation is The Stonecutter, and the only other of her 12 novels translated into English, The Preacher, are both extraordinary standalone mysteries. But The Ice Princess has the vigor of a first novel, before the talented writer was shaped by the powerful interests of publishing.

All of Läckberg’s three English translations are the work of Steven T. Murray, who also translated Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy (under the pen name of Reg Keeland), as well as five books by Henning Mankell and a number of other top Scandinavian authors. Much, if not most, of literary crime fiction originates in another language than English, so the translator deserves much if not most of the appreciation. In my view, The Ice Princess is the one of the best Swedish crime mysteries, and Läckberg stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Henning Mankell, Maj Sjowall, Per Wahloo and Haken Nesser.

Jeff Mannix is a freelance journalist and the author of a number of published books. Reach him at Jeff@JeffMannix.com.

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