A middling mystery by Swedish economist turned novelist Läckberg, a phenom in Europe but hitherto unpublished in the United States.
The Germans have a word for the literary genre that sells madly across the continent: Schwedenkrimi, “Swedish crime novels.” Never mind that pioneer Peter Høeg is Danish; the fact remains that a small squadron of Swedish writers, headed by the late Stieg Larsson and the still-living Henning Mankell, and including Mari Jungstedt, Anna Jansson and Johan Theorin, have made a specialty of blending gruesome murders with seamy side portraits of modern Swedish society, outwardly well scrubbed and orderly, inwardly an ugly mess of avarice, incest and racism. Läckberg’s Sweden is a touch less nasty than all that, but the setup is the same: The little village of Fjällbacka—a real place on the country’s west coast—is nice to look at, very dangerous to look into. Erica Falck, a coffee-addicted writer gone to the big city, where she’s struggling with a biography of novelist Selma Lagerlöf, has returned to her village to attend to her late parents’ estate and try to find some peace and quiet in which to work. It’s an inspiring place, after all; writes Läckberg, “Each new season brought its own spectacular scenery, and today it was bathed in bright sunshine that sent cascades of glittering light over the thick layer of ice on the sea.” But darkness soon descends when Erica’s childhood friend, the ethereally beautiful Alexandra Wijkner, turns up dead, the apparent victim of suicide, now lying frozen in a bathtub in an unheated house. Why she would have killed herself is a question that Erica takes up as she prepares a memorial for Alex, a project that turns into a book, then an inquest, now in the company of another childhood friend, a detective. The two turn up the unexpected—which, of course, every fan of Schwedenkrimi expects—namely, the sordidness of the wealthy, the appalling effects of child abuse and the general mayhem that ensues whenever cabin fever sets in.
Not as well written as Larsson and Mankell’s works, and rather formulaic. Still, good reading for the beach, if not the sauna.