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The Ice Princess: A Novel by Camilla Läckberg
Cover Artist: Photos: Ice -- Sarah Wilmer / Gallery Stock
Woman--Ilona Wellman / Archangel Images
Review by Don Metzler
Free Press Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781451621747
Date: 29 March 2011 List Price $15.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

Erica hadn't been in this house for a long time, but she had once known it well. She shivered in the cold despite her warm clothing. The door to the bathroom swung slowly inward, and she stepped inside.

The bathroom was completely tiled in white, so the effect of the blood in and around the bathtub was even more striking. For a brief moment she thought the contrast was pretty, before she realized that a real person was lying in the tub.

Mercifully, the corpse's eyes were shut, but the lips were bright blue. A thin film of ice had formed around the torso, hiding the lower half of the body completely. The right arm, streaked with blood, hung limply over the edge of the tub, its fingers dipped in the congealed pool of blood on the floor.

When Erica Falck, already struggling to cope with the recent, sudden death of her elderly parents, discovers the nearly frozen corpse of Alexandra Wijkner, she must now also deal with the inexplicable suicide of her closest childhood companion. And when forensic evidence reveals Alex's death to be not suicide at all, but a cold-blooded murder, Erica's challenges are compounded.

Erica and Alex had been out of touch with each other for almost twenty-five years, since they were ten years old. But Erica is now a well-known author of several biographical books, and Alex's parents ask her to write a memorial article about their daughter. At first reluctant, Erica agrees to write the piece when she begins to see the possibility of later turning it into a full-length book that will explore the life of her former friend. Erica experiences some pangs of guilt at her own willingness to treat Alex's death in what she considers a mercenary manner. But the project nevertheless draws her in, whether or not her better self approves.

Erica conducts interviews with the parents and with Alex's husband Henrik, and then with her business partner in an upscale art gallery, Francine. But rather than providing answers as to the direction Alex's life had taken since childhood, the interviews only seem to raise questions. There are gaps in the knowledge about certain periods of her life that no one seems able, or willing, to fill in. And more than once it is hinted that Alex carried a secret--a secret that she had shared with no one, not even her husband. The inquiry into Alexandra Wijkner's life, and death, takes on more and more importance for Erica as she continues to probe into what that secret may have been.

At the same time, Erica chances to bump into another old childhood friend, Patrik Hedstrom. Patrik is now a police investigator, divorced, and still carrying a torch for his first love, Erica. While Patrik and Erica's new romance begins to blossom, they each investigate the murder of Alex Wijkner from opposite directions: Patrik from the official police viewpoint, and Erica from a more personal, unconventional and unsanctioned angle that occasionally skirts the letter of the law. In the end, what they will learn about events that took place in the fishing village of Fjallbacka a quarter of a century ago will rattle their sense of the world in which they grew up.

The Ice Princess presents the reader with a dichotomy of good reading and not-so-good reading. Camilla Lackberg's greatest strength is the interplay of characters, each of whom, as the narrative progresses, we gradually come to realize have something to hide. All of this is woven into a backdrop of the murky, well-hidden undercurrents of life in a provincial, backwater town. The expert and complex psychological drama of The Ice Princess will rivet the reader, and keep us turning pages.

But the prose itself is sometimes a challenge. This may well be the fault of the translator, rather than the author. To be fair, there are occasional passages that read like poetry. But juxtaposed with these are sections that may seem to the reader as if we're eavesdropping on a conversation between teenagers who are not in any way academically inclined. In one section of the book, I found myself unconsciously keeping a running total of how many times the word "totally" had been used. I do not read or speak Swedish, but it's difficult for me to imagine that the Swedes are as fond of adverbs as some passages of this book would suggest.

Luckily, the story itself is engrossing enough to overcome these linguistic flaws. All in all, The Ice Princess is a worthwhile and enjoyable read.

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