THE ICE PRINCESS by Camilla Lackberg

I found it strange that while I was reading this, Brisbane went through one of the coldest snaps in June (2011) in over 90 years. The story moves between Fjallbacka and Goteborg in Sweden and the brutal cold is mentioned over and over again. There is an inherently gothic and creepy atmosphere that comes with a Scandinavian winter, and the weather I experienced certainly set the scene for a sensational thriller. I think what was most appealing with this novel was the main character, Erica. A wonderfully refreshing heroine, Erica is also a writer! How lovely. I’d best tell you what it’s about.

A sleepy town is rocked and a family is destroyed when the body of Alexandra Wijkner is found in a bathtub with cuts across both wrists. What initially appears to be a suicide is soon upgraded to murder once the autopsy reveals Alex had a high level of sedative in her blood. In a case of being at the wrong place at the wrong time, Erica and a neighbour find the body and she finds herself unwillingly dragged into the investigation of her childhood friend’s death. When the autopsy reveals another secret, the Wijkner family is forced to face the fact that Alex was not who they thought she was. With the help of local detective and childhood friend Patrik Hedstrom, Erica begins to delve into Alex’s past to make sense of what they are discovering. The Ice Princess is full of colourful characters; from Bertil Mellberg the local Superintendent, the wealthy Lorentz family, to Alex’s younger sister Julia, Erica’s ex boyfriend Dan, and local alcoholic Anders, no one is who they appear to be and the deeper the book goes, the more Erica and Patrik realise the events surrounding Alex’s death were decades in the making.

The story is simple and yet extremely complex. After reading The Chemistry of Death by Simon Beckett, I realised how much I liked his ominous paragraphs that hinted at revelations that were not made clear to the readers. Lackberg uses this technique to her advantage, and it was something I really enjoyed. Example: “He could only make out parts of the text, but it was enough to tell him what the message was about. Patrik gave a low whistle. That was interesting, very interesting. It set all his gears in motion.” As if a passage like that wouldn’t pique your interest!

Family dynamics are once again at war with each other and the reader bears witness to multiple conflicting portrayals of family life. Erica’s sister Anna is struggling with her husband Lucas, Dan is hiding a secret from his wife Pernilla, Anders’ mother is ashamed of her son, and the biggest secret of all lies within the walls of the Lorentz family home. I suppose the most pertinent questions asked by Lackberg is how far will someone go to preserve the legacy of their family, and what happens when people get in the way of that? An utterly compelling and fast-paced novel, The Ice Princess was up there with the best books of 2011.

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