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This one is different.
The Ice Princess by Camilla Lackberg, a crime novel set in contemporary Sweden, has stumped me. And perhaps it shoudn't. In this story of two violent deaths fueled by the simmering resentments and psychopathologies of similarly violent childhoods, Lackberg skillfully weaves multiple perspectives and characterizations to keep the reader guessing up until the bitter end. So what's the issue?
Is it the scores of characters who weave their way in and out of this 400ish page tale of an amatuer writer-detective whose childhood friend is brutally murdered, then left to bleed out and freeze over in her own bathtub? (I counted at least a dozen different perspectives in the first chapter alone...)
Is it the brief descriptions of myriad Swedish exteriors and interiors for which I have no visual reference points? (I'll look them up now.)
Is it that I was expecting an action thriller but got a highly psychological and moderately paced mystery instead? (Possibly.)
I don't know.
I do know that if this is considered a suspense novel, as it was described by its publishers, then my previous generalizations about the state of the genre (based on a current bestseller) must be seriously amended. In fact, The Ice Princess stacks up quite favorably against the current bestseller by a famously prolific author from which I drew my conclusions. Does this bode well for Lackberg's career and her future novels? One hopes it does.
Did this novel pass the time pleasantly? Absolutely. Was the 'Bridget Jones without the humor' heroine reasonably believable and sympathetic? Indeed. Did the plot move forward at a steady pace with occasional twists and turns and blind alleyways for good measure? Yes. Subplots in which the protagonist's personal life repeatedly intersects with her sleuthing? Check. Satisfying romantic developments? Check.
So if you're looking for those qualities in your next light read, and especially if you've ever held a fascination for Swedish culture and scenery, Lackberg's debut on the North American scene will suit the bill nicely.
MFB with a fresh perspective on a popular genre,
I'm going to research Sweden and then find out what it might cost to travel there. Lately, I've met quite a few new Swedish pals, so I do believe that this novel has propelled me toward making more lasting acquaintances out of them. I will FB and email two today.
I'll post this review to Amazon and Goodreads and open a reviewer account on Betterworldbooks.com so I can post there too. (FYI: I don't reliably post reviews so this book will help me make a habit of sharing honest information with more people.)
For my "What I Learned About Thrillers" premises, and how The Ice Princess stacks up:
1. Protagonists must be described as disarmingly charming. As a matter of fact, that seems to be the case here, but Lackberg does craft protagonist Erica Falck as a somewhat charismatic individual whose actions and personality would seem to elicit trust, unlike the other bestselling thriller I recently read in which the hero's charm was told but not shown, making his amazing feats of interpersonal info. extraction seem utterly implausible.
2. Upscale vocabulary should be repeated if it's considered a 'literary thriller'. Strong vocabulary here too, but less pretentiously obvious than in the other thriller.
3. Toward the end, details of how the hero manages to procure his ammo, maps, Kevlar body armor, etc. may be abandoned in the name of pacing, even though such details must be meticulously described at earlier points in book. This book is all about the mystery, so fire power plays no role.
4. Point of view resides with the protagonist, with occasional brief and ill-conceived lapses into other characters' perspectives. Here, Lacksberg sets up our expectation in chapter one that perspective - while primarily with Erica and later her paramour Patrick - will shift among many characters. This point-of-view ploy works reasonably well here and seems purposeful rather than careless.
5. Bad guys must be very, very bad and possess martial arts skills. Actually, no. Bad guys can be just regular people with sadly twisted life experiences.
6. The protagonist may be so overcome by emotion at pivotal plot points that his hitherto impeccable judgment is conveniently obscured. Here, Erica does make a few unlikely choices, but displays a pattern of somehwat impulsive behavior so it's more believable.
7. The protagonist must also be cute. Why is this stereotype still necessary? Almost all the main characters in this novel are described as somewhat to stunningly attractive and Erica is gorgeous. Sigh.
8. Prostitute with a heart of gold? Nope. Single teen mom with a heart of gold? Yep.
9. Being diagnosed with a 'brain cloud' or some equally obscure disease motivates protagonist? Nope.
So actually, those factors considered, The Ice Princess stacks up quite favorably against a current bestseller by a famously prolific author. Does this bode well for Lackberg's career and her future novels? One hopes it does.
It took me about 100 pages to 'get into' this novel because Lackberg spends significant time perspective-hopping in the first few chapters, and the protagonist spends much time reacting to events. So for a while we know more about the personalities of the other characters than Erica, which makes her more a cypher out there doing stuff and reacting than a protagonist we are rooting for. She's the typical detective, not the true protag. So this becomes more a procedural mystery? Only she's an amateur and acting erratically so that the plot moves forward rather than according to an internal locus, however vague. In a way, she's a passive protag., shifting w/circumstance....