The Ice Princess – book review

For the last decade or so Scandinavian crime novels seem to have accelerated in popularity to the point where they’re almost leading the way in the genre. With Larsson’s Millennium series, the Killing, the Henning Maskell books and Camilla Lackberg’s Patrick Hedstrom series being the most popular.

I wonder what it is about Scandinavia that makes it such a good host for a murder mystery? Perhaps it’s the long dark nights and the sometimes treacherous weather – because, it’s much harder to catch a killer after dark, right?

I’m a big fan of the Millennium trilogy (although, admittedly I need to finish the 3rd) and after enjoying a holiday to Copenhagen earlier in the year I knew I wanted to return to literary Scandinavia. After seeing lots of good reviews I tracked down a copy of ‘The Ice Princess’, and thus I was taken into the world of Erica Falck and Patrick Hedstrom.

While the subject matter is very dark, it’s also very funny throughout – which kind of threw me a bit. Certainly a contrast to Steig Larsson’s work. Now, while I do like humour, I’d picked this up so I could read a darker story. Lackberg’s comical description is a little too on the nose at times, some of the characters – such as the bumbling police Superintendent – would perhaps be more at home in a sitcom than a serious murder story.

I had also expected the main detective in the story, Patrik, to be something of a hard-bitten sleuth. He couldn’t have been further from that. Instead he’s a recently divorced 35 year old who spends half of the time chasing his high school crush – it’s only in the very last quarter of the book that he actually shows any pedigree as a detective.

The story involves the murder of Alexandra Wijkner – she’s found floating in a bath tub of ice, and it looks as if she’s committed suicide at first. The murder causes a lot of talk in the small community where she came from. At the same time her childhood friend, the biography writer Erica Falck, is back in town to look after the estate of her recently deceased parents.

One thing leads to another and Erica finds herself mixed up in the investigation. Shortly she bumps into Patrik Hedstrom, a guy who fancied her at school – now a detective. The two of them seem to revert back to their teenage years and start to have a giggly ‘does she like me/does he like me’ relationship.

All the while set against the backdrop of a murder – twist after twist shows us that there’s a lot more to Alexandra Wijkner’s death than meets the eye.

I liked the character of Erica, but she did jump from being very complex to remarkably uncomplicated within seconds. One minute a woman grieving for her dead parents, the next a young girl swooning over an old flame.

Admittedly though, I feel that my review is biased by the fact that ‘Millenium’ had set my expectations. If I had just read this as a random book, I might have enjoyed it more – going into it with an open mind.

I also wasn’t overly sold on the ending – there were a few subplots that I didn’t feel were full resolved. One of them being to do with Erica’s sister’s partner, although perhaps that’s explored in the next book in the series.

Camilla Lackberg has a sharp eye for writing about emotions and is genuinely really funny in some of her prose. Some of the dialogue is a little…odd…at times, but I wonder if that might be due to the translation to English. I know I noticed that a few times with Steig Larsson’s writing.

There was also some great commentary here about the kind of ‘what would the neighbours think’ society that often populates small towns. Growing up in one myself I can completely relate to what Lackberg means by this – it’s a theme that goes throughout the whole book, and even becomes central to the crimes.

For me this is a 3/5 – certainly not a bad book, it kept me entertained and engaged. But, it came across as too much of a ‘cosy’ mystery at times (despite the dark subject matter) – maybe I’ll read a few more in the series but I won’t be rushing out to buy them.

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