Camilla Lackberg’s The Ice Princess, which won the Le Grand Prix de Litterature Policier (Best International Crime Novel) in 2009 and sold a gazillion copies in Europe, is now available in the US, translated by Steven Murray. Murray also translated the novels of Lackberg’s fellow Swedes, Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson, so I assume the unimaginative prose is not his fault. Lazy descriptions like “slowly it penetrated her brain” and cliches such as “it looked like a bomb had gone off” lets the reader know that we’re not in P.D. James territory here.
Erica Falck returns to her home town of Fjallbacka (due to a tragedy that feels it should have consequences but barely registers either in the plot or in Erica’s emotions beyond a weep now and then – a walloping deus ex machina ), and stumbles into the aftermath of a childhood friend’s suicide. Erica, a writer of biographies, is bored with her current project and begins to nose around the victim Alex’s past. Sure enough, the icy calm of her home town, (and Alex’s once frosty demeanor), sits atop a proverbial iceberg of secrets and lies, at which Erica chisels away aided by a local detective who happens to be one of the nicest men north of the equator. Many subplots emerge – a violent marriage, the buffoonish antics of a police chief – which are left to drift without closure before the mystery is resolved, hinged around a decision taken years before that is not entirely convincing. During the investigation Erica decides to write a book about Alex and hastily knocks off the first “hundred or so” pages. Erica barely knew Alex after age ten and she remains a cypher to the reader so I’d loved to have known what those pages contained. Despite my natural yearning to root for my heroine, Erica’s decision to switch to true crime without any moral tussle beyond a trite remark about a victim’s right to speak and that “the demand…. is enormous,” is a tad off-putting.
Despite these gripes I kept reading The Ice Princess because I’m a sucker for who-done-its and, like suckers the world over, I’ll put up with a fair amount of clunky prose to find out what happened next. Given that this is Lackberg’s first novel and she does have a cunning imagination and an interest (if simplistic compared to the Mistresses James and Rendell) in human nature, I’ll probably read her second one too. No doubt she’ll sell gazillions on this side of the pond.
(Note: Lackberg used to be an economist before turning to fiction. The adjective “profitable” appears on both the book jacket and in the marketing material, not a term that pops up often in these contexts, ‘best-selling’ being the favored euphemism. I know, I’m a cynic.)