THE ICE PRINCESS - Camilla Lackberg
Billed, somewhat confusingly for me at least, as "the best selling thriller" from "Sweden's Agatha Christie", I was interested to read a quote from the author that said "When I write these stories, it is not the gory and macabre details that interest me; it is the psychology behind the crime. What makes a person commit the worst of all sins - taking another person's life." Now if there's one thing that I particularly like it's the exploration of the why behind crimes.
THE ICE PRINCESS is set in the seaside town of Fjallbacka, a fishing village beset by the problems that happen when a town goes from a sleepy village to, what we'd call in Australia, a seachange location. Many of the family homes are now serving as weekenders or holiday homes for the wealthy who live most of the year somewhere else. There are still some pockets of old-time residents, and then there are people - like Erica - who come back. Erica is a writer, she specialises in biographies of famous people, and she's back in Fjallbacka, because her parents were recently killed in a car accident, and their house needs to be sorted out. She's also settling into the house, working, reconnecting. Erica's sister Anna and her husband Lucas want to sell the house, which devastates Erica. As well as losing her parents - she could lose the family's history and centre. Whilst she is in Fjallbacka the body of her childhood friend - Alex is found. She's lying in a bath of ice, in a house where the heating has failed. Her wrists have been slashed and initially it's easy to write the death off as suicide. Erica isn't convinced and neither is Patrik. Patrik is another childhood friend of Erica's - he has remained all his life in this area and now is a policeman. When he takes over the investigation of Alex's death - he discovers quickly that there has been a suicide, but there has also been a murder.
THE ICE PRINCESS was an interesting book to read - sometimes quite satisfying and sometimes a bit annoying. The focus switches - Erica starts out investigating Alex's life - there had been a point at which they lost contact as children - and it's pretty obvious that something has happened that may have ultimately led to her death; but as soon as Patrik steps into the investigation, Erica seems to move to the backseat. She also withholds evidence at one point for no logical reason. There are also points at which characters in the story discover something - but the reader is never told what that is. There's also a lot of extraneous stuff happening - Erica's parents; her own relationship with her sister Anna; the relationship between Anna and her husband; Erica and Patrik; Alex and her family; Eilert Berg and his wife; Anders and his mother; other members of the local community and so on. It all gets very elaborate and complicated.
There are some predictable characterisations - whilst both Erica and Patrik are really wet at points, Patrick's boss Bertil Mellberg is predictably rough on his employees, but he's also mildly funny. There is, however, a nice cameo from Eilert Berg - who discovers the body and there is Annika from the police department. There is also some budding romantic relationship building which may or may not appeal to some readers.
Where the book failed somewhat is that the plot is overly complicated at points, and it seems to spend a lot of time rushing up and down sub-stories. Whilst there is some interesting exploration of decisions that are made for all the wrong reasons, it takes an awful lot to get to that point, especially as some of the elements are telegraphed fairly early on in proceedings. That's not to say that this was a bad book, or that reading it wasn't totally without any enjoyable moments. It was an unusual book, and I think I can see where the Agatha Christie reference has some relevance. I'll definitely keep an eye out for the next book - I hope the build up of the characters, their relationships and the background of their lives step back a little, allowing more of the psychological aspects to take the focus.
Returning to her hometown 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.