The gruesome murder of a young woman named Alexandra Wijkner has scandalized the small coastal town of Fjallbacka and given its incompetent police superintendent an opportunity to regain his position in the big city of Goteborg, or so he thinks. In fact, Patrik Hedstrøm, a young detective, is forced to carry out the investigation behind the superintendent’s back because the boss prefers to sleep at his desk and wait until he can take credit in the media for any success his subordinates manage to achieve.
The Ice Princess (Fjallbacka Book #1) by Camilla Lackberg (2003) 420 pages
@@@@ (4 out of 5)
The “ice princess” of the title is the victim, Alex Wijkner, a beautiful but cold and enigmatic young woman married to a highly successful businessman. As a child, Alex and a local writer named Ericka Falck were inseparable — until Alex and her family suddenly and inexplicably disappeared when Alex was ten. Recently, however, Alex has begun turning up in town on weekends. Ericka is overcome with curiosity about the murder, and when Alex’s family presses her into writing a book about Alex, she picks up an excuse to insert herself into the investigation. That brings her into contact with Patrik, and soon love is in the air.
A fascinating cast of characters
As the investigation proceeds on two often independent tracks — Patrik’s and Ericka’s — the seamy side of life in Fjallbacka comes into view. Other characters, many of them murder suspects, hove into view. There is the wealthy family that owns the cannery where so many townspeople work: Nelly Lorentz, the matriarch; Jan, the adopted son who runs the company; and Nils, the older son who disappeared suddenly many years earlier. Also in the picture are Anders Nilsson, a brilliant painter who is the town drunk, and his mother, a housekeeper for the Lorentz family; Dan and Pernilla, Ericka’s old fling and his suspicious wife; and Henrik Wijkner, the victim’s husband, who seems strangely unaffected by his wife’s death. Every one of these characters is clearly delineated and believable.
A love story against an icy background
Meanwhile, Patrik and Ericka circle cautiously around each other, each of them terrified that the other doesn’t reciprocate their feelings. In some ways, the halting, nervous way that the two protagonists deal with each other is the strongest aspect of this novel. These two, both of them in their late 30s, act like nervous teenagers. It’s amusing and a little unsettling. At the same time, Ericka’s younger sister struggles with the abusive husband she adamantly refuses to leave. While these two dramatically different love stories are in the background, their robustness and credibility elevate The Ice Princess into the realm of literature.
Looking into the author’s mind
Novelists sometimes betray their innermost thoughts when they’re writing. Lackberg does that often. For example, she writes “It was people — their relationships and psychological motivations — that she was interested in; she thought that was something most crime novels had to give up in favor of bloody murders and cold shivers running down the spine. She hated all the cliches they used; she wanted to write about something that was genuine.” Amen to that!
About the author
Camilla Lackberg has written eight novels in her Fjallbacka series. (Just in case you care: there are two dots above that first “a.”) Fjallbacka is the small Swedish coastal town where she was born. Like The Ice Princess, the first in the series, all feature Patrik Hedstrom and Ericka Falck, the detective and the mystery writer who collaborate on solving mysteries in town. According to a note at the end of The Ice Princess, her “first six novels have all become #1 bestsellers in Sweden, and she is the most profitable native author in Swedish history.”
For additional reading
You’ll find the other Patrik Hedstrøm and Ericka Falck mysteries here, linked to my reviews: The Fjällbacka series of Swedish thrillers from Camilla Läckberg.
You might also enjoy my posts:
- Top 10 mystery and thriller series;
- 20 excellent standalone mysteries and thrillers; and
- 20 outstanding detective series from around the world.
For an abundance of great mystery stories, go to Top 20 suspenseful detective novels (plus 200 more). And if you’re looking for exciting historical novels, check out Top 10 historical mysteries and thrillers reviewed here (plus 100 others).