Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Ice Princess by Camilla Läckberg

The Ice Princess (Fjällbacka Series #1)  The Ice Princess is a mystery set in a small Swedish seaside village.  Erika, a writer who specializes in biographies of women, has recently returned to her childhood home to deal with her parent’s estate after their untimely, accidental death.  Erika's childhood friend, Alex, is also in town.  Unfortunately there is to be no happy reunion for the two old friends.  The caretaker who watches over Alex’s childhood home when she’s out of town find Alex nearly frozen in her bathtub.  Her wrists have been slashed but it becomes clear pretty quickly that this was no suicide.

Alex’s parents ask Erika to write something about their daughter, a sort of long form eulogy about what a wonderful person she was, so Erika begins interviewing Alex’s friends and family.  Having barely seen or spoken to her old friend in two decades, Erika realizes that she really doesn’t know Alex all that well anymore.  They were bosom buddies as children until one day something changed and Alex started freezing Erika out.  Soon thereafter Alex and her family moved away and the two friends lost touch.  As Erika begins looking in her old friend’s life, she can’t help but wonder if whatever caused Alex to abruptly change as a child is connected to her murder.

Erika isn’t the only one looking into Alex’s life.  Police detective Patrik is also on the case.  It is a small town and everyone knows each other or at least knows of each other, so it is no surprise that Erika and Patrik have history too.  They were childhood friends, at least that’s Erika’s story.  For Patrik, Erika was the girl he pined over all through their teen years.

The Ice Princess is a reasonably good mystery.  It starts with a dead body found nearly frozen in a bathtub.  As Erika and Patrik try to learn more about the victim and solve her murder they uncover all sorts of shocking secrets about the victim, her past, and her family.  Some secrets were obvious a mile away; others I didn’t see coming.  The ending is satisfying when it comes.  Along the way, old friends find new love and old lovers see their romances began to crumble.

Overall I liked The Ice Princess, but there were a few things that bugged me.  I'm not sure if it was the story itself or the translation, but there were many times when I felt the story could be set in any small or mid-size American city.  Part of the reason I read translated books or books set in or from other countries is because I want to know about those other countries.  I want to know how things work in other parts of the world, how people talk, what the landscape is like.  Here I didn’t get a sense much of a sense of Sweden.  At best the setting-atmosphere-language seemed generic; at worst it seemed American.  I haven’t read that many Swedish novels but the ones I have read, especially those by Henning Mankell, have a clear and distinct sense of place.

Another problem for me was that it it wasn't clear who the central character or main detective is.  The story starts with Erika and judging from the blurb on the back cover she is the (amateur) detective around which story centers.  Then Patrik the policeman appears.  They don't work together to find Alex's murderer but they don't exactly work apart.  Jumping between two detectives made it seem like the author couldn’t decide on a point of view.  Also, there were times when things were just a little too convenient, like the connection between Erika’s old best friend and her current best friend.  I mean, I know it’s a small town, but still.
I bought this book a couple of years ago when The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and all things Swedish were all the rage.  I'm glad I finally got around to reading it.

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