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THE ICE BENEATH HER by Camilla Grebe: Book Review

As The Ice Beneath Her opens it’s winter in Stockholm, and homicide detective Peter Lindgren gets a call that brings him to the site of a particularly gruesome murder.  The victim, a young woman, has been found beheaded in the home of Jesper Orre.  Not only is the death scene macabre, but the detective realizes that it’s eerily similar to one that took place ten years ago in the city; that murder was never solved.

The novel’s second chapter takes place two months earlier.  There we meet Emma, a young woman who works in Clothes&More, the chain that’s owned by Orre.  She arrives at work wearing a huge diamond ring, but she won’t tell her co-workers the name of her fiancé or anything about him.  The reader learns that her fiancé is Jesper and that she’s promised him she won’t give anyone any information about him because it could cause trouble for him and herself. 

Emma goes to her apartment to prepare a dinner to celebrate their engagement, but Jesper never shows up.  She calls and texts him several times that night to no avail, and she still hasn’t heard from him by morning.

As the book returns to the present, Hanne is introduced.  She’s a psychologist who worked with the police years ago on the unsolved murder case, and she’s called now by Peter’s partner to help with this death.  What the partner doesn’t know, and Hanne doesn’t have any intention of telling him, is that during the course of the previous investigation she and Peter fell in love despite the fact that she was married.

So now Hanne is dealing with two very stressful issues.  One is the extremely unhappy marriage she’s been in for twenty years, the second is the knowledge that her memory is deteriorating and that at some future time she will be completely helpless.  Disregarding her husband’s instructions not to get involved with the present case, she goes to the police station and must confront her former lover there.

The Ice Beneath Her goes back and forth between these three protagonists.  We learn about Peter’s failed marriage and his inability to connect with his teenage son, with Hanne’s controlling husband and her beginning dementia, and the dysfunctional childhood that Emma survived.  All this is portrayed realistically and with empathy, leading the reader to understand the reasons for the present-day behaviors and motivations of these characters.

Camilla Grebe’s novel will keep the reader on a roller coaster ride, with many twists and turns that are all believable.  It’s a book that’s almost impossible to put down.

You can read more about Camilla Grebe at various sites on the internet.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.

 

 

 

 

 

THE STRANGER by Camilla Läckberg: Book Review

Serial killers are not common in Sweden, certainly not in small towns such as Fjällbacka.  But although the idea of such a killer is slow to take hold in the police department, eventually the detectives come to that conclusion when a series of apparently unrelated murders are seen to have a common thread.

The Stranger opens with a new hire for the town’s police department, Hanna Kruse, its first female detective.  She has arrived just in time to join veteran detective Patrik Hedström in investigating a fatal car crash.  At first glance it looks cut-and-dried; the driver smells strongly of alcohol and there’s an empty vodka bottle on the floor.  But there’s something about the scene and the victim’s body that bothers Patrik.

Upon further investigation, Patrik discovers the semi-hidden life of the victim, Marit Kaspersen.  Marit had been living with Kerstin, ostensibly as a roommate, with Kerstin pushing for coming out in the open as lesbians while Marit insisted that it would do irreparable harm to her daughter Sofie.  The two women had fought about this many times, and to Kerstin’s distress, the last words that she and Marit had had the night before the accident ended with Kerstin saying to Marit, “Go ahead and run away….And this time don’t bother coming back!”

Fjällbacka is opening its doors to the filming of a reality television show, with all the attendant publicity and chaos that such filming involves.  The self-involved twenty-somethings in the cast know how the game is played–do the most outrageous things and you get the most airtime.  Chosen from previous reality show contestants, the group includes a girl who cuts herself, a wealthy playboy, a surgically enhanced bombshell, and a Turkish emigree, among others. 

Then one of them disappears, and the already busy police department becomes overwhelmed by the pressure from the national media.   Interestingly, the missing cast member doesn’t seem to have left behind grieving mates; the overwhelming feeling is “sorry she’s gone missing, but look at all the extra publicity we’re getting.”

Several other threads run through the novel, bringing the town and its inhabitants into greater focus.   Patrik’s wife Erica is dealing with her sister Anna, who is deeply depressed by a horrific event that occurred in the previous novel, while caring for Anna’s two children.  Bertil Mellberg, the inept head of homicide, is starting a romantic relationship that will turn his life around.  Erling Larson, a wealthy, self-satisfied businessman, is responsible for bringing the reality show to his town and cares only for the onrush of tourists he expects as a result.  And Hanna, the new detective, appears overly eager to close the book on the automobile crash that claimed Marit’s life.

The Stranger is Camilla Läckberg’s seventh book that has been translated into English.  The novels should ideally be read in sequence, as the characters and stories continue from one to the other.  But even if you start with The Stranger, I promise you’ll want to go back and read the others to get the full story of life in Fjällbacka.

You can read more about Camilla Läckberg at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.

 

 

 

THE BLACK PATH by Asa Larsson: Book Review

Can one ever recover from an unhappy childhood? This novel is full of people whose sad memories still haunt them, and to some extent control them, many years later.

In The Black  Path, Asa Larsson brings back two of her characters from previous books:  police inspector Anna-Maria Mella and attorney Rebecka Martinsson. Up in Tornetrask, northern Sweden, the two are brought together to work on the brutal murder of business executive Inna Wattrang. Her body was found abandoned in an ark, a wooden hut used in ice fishing.  Inna was beautiful, intelligent, successful, but someone hated her enough to both torture her and then stab her to death.  Why?

Anna-Maria is the head of the homicide force in the small city of Kiruna.  She’s happily married, the mother of four children.  Rebecka Martinsson is a well-respected attorney in Stockholm, originally from Kiruna, who has just been released from a mental hospital, having suffered a breakdown after seeing the murdered body of a close friend and then being forced to kill three men in self-defense.  Now Rebecka wants nothing more than to return to the house in which she grew up and to be left alone.  But that is not to be.

Inna’s boss and her brother, his business partner, are brought in to identify her body.  Her boss, Mauri Kallis, is a self-made multi-millionaire, a rarity in a country where one’s birth still counts in society. Abandoned by a father he never knew, neglected by a mother with a mental illness, brought up in a foster family with a vicious older foster “brother,” Mauri has tried to put all that behind him by pretending it never happened.  Never given love or attention during his childhood, he’s unable to give them to his wife and two young sons.  There’s a cold core in his center, and he’s not interested in thawing it out.

All he’s interested in is making money–it’s money, after all, that has given him the clout to build both physical and metaphysical walls between himself and the rest of the world.  So far Mauri has had the Midas touch, always knowing when to put money into a business and when to take it out, but with his new mining venture in Uganda, he may be in over his head.

Inna’s brother Diddi has slid through life with his good looks and charming manner, despite his own unhappy upbringing. But his dissolute ways are catching up to him.  He’s been a partner with Mauri in their firm–Mauri is Mr. Inside, Diddi is Mr. Outside–but he’s losing his touch with the important, rich people the firm needs in order to continue to make its risky investments.

Can the possible business problems and the cooling personal relationship between her boss and her brother explain why Inna was killed?  Are those issues central to her murder or merely peripheral?

There’s a strong friendship building between Anna-Maria and Rebecka, two women who don’t have much in common. Anna-Maria’s life, in her opinion, is just about perfect, giving her both a happy family and professional success.  On the other hand, Rebecka’s demons, brought about in great part by a neglectful mother (they’re everywhere in this novel), have made her successful in work but fearful in her personal life.  Attracted to a colleague in her Stockholm law firm, she’s convinced herself that she’s not worthy of his attention, much less his love, and is almost suicidal in her despair at ever finding someone with whom to share her life.

A wonderful character study as well as an engrossing, if very dark, novel, Asa Larsson’s series continues to bring northern Sweden closer to us.

Ms. Larsson doesn’t appear to have an English web page, but you can read more about her at this web page.

THE ICE PRINCESS by Camilla Lackberg: Book Review

Back I go again to snowy, cold Sweden.  Don’t they commit murder in Sweden during the summer?

Be that as it may, The Ice Princess by Camilla Lackberg will surely chill your blood, regardless of the season in which you read it.

The novel takes place in the present time, but the source of the crimes goes back a quarter of a century. When Erica Falck returns to her hometown of Fjallbacka after her parents’ death, she is immediately confronted by the death of her girlhood friend, Alex.  Alex’s body was found frozen, with her wrists cut, in the bathtub of her home.

Alex is a woman who seems to have everything. The successful co-owner of an art gallery, she is a woman who has beauty, brains, and a very wealthy husband who adores her.  But what was bringing her from her sumptuous home in Stockholm to her former hometown of Fjallbacka nearly every weekend?  Her husband, who knew that his love for her greatly exceeded her love for him, was too fearful to ask questions; better to deal with the uncertainty than to end their marriage.

Erica, a successful writer of famous Swedish women’s biographies, is asked by Alex’s parents to write a eulogy for their daughter.  They are convinced that she would never have killed herself.  According to Alex’s father, “she didn’t have the inner strength.”  And it turns out her parents were right.

Erica is reluctant.  She protests that she and Alex were friends a long time ago and hadn’t had any contact in the intervening years.  But that opens up the question that has bothered Erica all this time–what made Alex drop out of Erica’s life and made her family pick up and leave in the middle of the school year without a word to anyone? 

Various other threads run through The Ice Princess. Erica’s younger sister, Anna, is trapped in an abusive marriage that she doesn’t seem to have the strength to leave.  Anders, the town’s brilliant painter and also its local drunkard, continues to waste his life and his talent.  And then there’s the twenty-five year old mysterious disappearance of the son of the town’s richest family–he was a teacher at the local elementary school and was simply gone one day.  Did he commit a crime and flee?  Was he murdered?  Did his despicable mother and/or his arrogant adopted brother have anything to do with his disappearance?

On the lighter side of this dark novel is the burgeoning romance between Erica and another childhood friend, Patrik Hedstrom, who is now a member of the town’s police force.  In love with Erica since they were children, Patrik can hardly believe his good luck at her interest in him now.

According to the book’s jacket, Camilla Lackberg is the author of four #1 best-sellers in her native country. With her stunning prose and her insights into small town life and its citizens, it’s easy to see why.

You can read more about Camilla Lackberg at her web site.