Length: 392 pages
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Erica Falck returns to her hometown of Fjallbacka for her parents’ funeral. She’s still trying to come to terms with the raw pain of her parents’ sudden death when life takes another unexpected turn that leaves her shaken to the core. Alex, who had been her best friend in her childhood years, is found dead in an icy bath in her own home, her wrists slashed in an apparent suicide. Erica and Alex had drifted apart years ago. But the pain of that unexpected and unexplained separation still persisted. When Alex’s death is proved to be murder, Erica finds herself searching for answers. And that brings her to Detective Patrik Hedstrom. As Patrik and Erica work together, they discover that the picturesque town and its seemingly harmless people have horrifying secrets. And that uncovering the secrets that have been hidden for decades may be the only way to find out why Alex had been murdered, why she’d drifted apart from Erica, and who she really was.
The Ice Princess is Läckberg’s debut novel – and for a first novel, it’s really good. It’s got a riveting story that comes with a lot of twists, quite a few of them unexpected. It’s got good characters and the relationships and chemistry between them are well depicted. And it definitely does justice to the ‘small towns, big secrets’ theme that many novels tend to follow. The book has also beent ranslated superbly, and it reads smoothly enough to almost let you forget that it wasn’t originally written in English.
The book even reads well, moving from one aspect to another quickly yet easily, in Läckberg’s unique style. The one thing that I thought added to the mystery (others would find this to be a downer, I think), was that you, the reader, were only allowed to know certain things when the time was right. It didn’t lay everything out the minute one of the characters found out about it; you found out at a convenient time, when it became pertinent to taking the story forward, and when the character it affected the most finally learned about it too. So you have to forgo the advantage of looking at the characters as an all-seeing outsider. Instead, you get to live the story out with the characters.
But there are a lot of things that bring its rating down. The first is the romance between Erica and Patrik. Sure, romance may have been a necessary part of the novel, but the excessive focus on make-up, body shaping pantyhose and the likes put a real chip into the smooth finish the book has otherwise. And the one thing that I just couldn’t wrap my head around was the just-under-the-radar gender role enforcement. Personally, I don’t think it was intentional. I think it’s just the way things are in the setting portrayed. But I could have done without lines like, “Patrik’s concern for the mess in the living room was sweet and it was nice to see that Erica had already whipped him into shape.”
I mean, what??
(Also, that sentence has been paraphrased to include context, but most of it is right from the book.)
I don’t think women freak out at the sight of a little mess and I definitely don’t think men need to be ‘whipped into shape’. But what I don’t get at all about that statement is this: what the heck is it doing in a murder mystery!!?
So, yes, there are these vague tangents that the book goes on to that seem forced and could definitely have been left out. And personally, I would’ve been happier without the excessive prissiness that an otherwise completely level-headed woman (Erica) displays the moment she thinks of Patrik. It just flies right into the face of the character Läckberg has built for her; and it makes it seem like the book takes a turn off the murder road and plunges into teenage pool for a while before returning. All in all, those tangents and strange sentences really seem to fly off the page and smack you in the face, making you cringe and read faster so that you can get back to the real story where everyone is sensible and their normal selves again.
Coming back to the sensible parts of the book, although it really keeps you guessing and also gives you a good amount of surprises, the end is oddly underwhelming. And that, as any reader would say, is a sure-fire recipe to bring a rating down.
In its entirety, The Ice Princess is a good read, and it definitely shows potential for the other books to come. I will mostly read more of Läckberg’s work because, despite some annoying aspects, her characters are easy to relate with and are also likeable. Plus, her work seems to be the kind that will have plot twists that, for the most part, successfully surprise and shock – something you begin to miss when you’ve read enough crime thrillers for things to become predictable. If you’re a fan of crime writing, I would recommend giving The Ice Princess a shot. It’s easy to read, keeps you turning the pages, and mostly does justice to the genre.
I’d love to know your thoughts about The Ice Princess – please share them in the comments below.