The Scandinavian assault on the British crime market continues with new (to me) authors arriving on the shelves with increasing regularity. Why do the Scandinavians write crime so well? Answers in comments please.
My latest Swedish discovery is sharing the the stage with Norwegian K O Dahl at the Edinburgh Book Festival next month. Camilla Läckberg’s debut novel took three years to make the journey from Swedish to English and then another twelve months before the book landed in my grubby mitts. Since then she has published another two novels, both of which have been bestsellers in her native country.
On the assumption that they are engaging as her debut novel, it’s easy to see why. The Ice Princess is a beautiful woman, found naked in her bath, her wrists slit. She is frozen – her body has been lying there for a week before it is discovered. As in death, so in life. Her marriage was a sham. She could not love her husband although he adored her. Yet the post-mortem reveals a pregnancy. Alors, cherchez l’homme!
Neither is the detective stereotypical. Patrik, painfully shy and hopelessly in love with Erika, the woman who finds the body. Erika, the murdered woman’s childhood friend, who was mysteriously frozen out of her life. A biographer who decides to write a book about her lost friend. Both investigator and investigatress with personal motivations, therefore, to find the murderer. And they do so in their separate ways, at the same time as their affair turns serious. The interest of the novel revolving not only around whodunnit but around the dynamic of Patrik’s and Erika’s developing relationship.
Patrik and Erika are accompanied by a cast of fully-realised subsidiary characters. Erica’s sister, Anna, married to a violent man, whom she loves despite everything. The local artist, brilliant but alcoholic. His despairing mother. The pain of a cheated wife. The despair of a cuckolded husband. The rich, corrupted by and rendered unsympathetic by the privileges their wealth has bought. It is a colourful tapestry, the threads linked thematically by the general unhappiness in modern relationships and the sometimes unsolvable dilemmas and incurable wounds inflicted. At times, the murder becomes a subsidiary thread. Not that it matters, Läckberg’s characters are flesh and blood, human beings of the three dimensional variety and, as in real life, I cared about some more than others.
There’s only one character who descends into caricature. An inspector, demoted from the city to the backwater of Fjallbacka, who spends his time controlling his wayward wig and eating pastries rather than displaying any level of professional competence. He talks in cliches. He is a television cop, at one point even using a line from a television show when directing his own force. In his view there’s no better way to do it.
There are more satirical references to modern culture. Erika, debating with herself about whether her new book is exploitation or investigative journalism at its finest. Erika, counting her Weightwatchers points and the almost obligatory big knicker homage to Bridget Jones.
So mystery, romance and humour blended to create a new type of Scandinavian experience. I still love Nesbo’s hard-drinking Harry Hole and Mankell’s lost and lonely Wallender. But I did enjoy the warm humanity of Läckberg’s characters. How quickly can Steven T Murray translate novel number two?