Nine million people live in Sweden.
Camilla Läckberg has sold three million books there.
She is, her publisher boasts, "the most profitable native author in Swedish history."
And if Läckberg and her supporters have their way, she'll soon be as well known as her countryman, Stieg Larsson. She's collecting honors --- in 2008, she won France's Grand Prix de Littérature Policière for Best International Crime Novel. And her seven crime novels are moving briskly along the media track, with movies and television shows soon to be seen in Europe and then, eventually, the United States.
Never heard of her?
You're not alone.
The Ice Princess --- the first book in her series about Erica Falck, a biographer who has returned to her tiny home town to finish a book --- has just been published in America. It should delight readers who, like Läckberg, adore Agatha Christie. And then, because Läckberg is young and attractive, articulate and media-savvy, it should appeal to readers who judge books by their covers and author photos.
A short video will suggest she has quite a future in translation.
See what I mean?
"The Ice Princess" starts with a scene of chilly brilliance --- literally. In mid-winter, a woman is found, frozen solid, in the bathtub of an unheated house in Fjällbacka. Alexandra's wrists have been slashed, but suicide makes no sense. She was young, rich, beautiful, happily married.
The woman who finds Alex is her childhood friend, Erica Falck. She's returned to Fjällbacka, her childhood home, to finish a book that's boring her. Writing a memorial to her friend seems like a better use of her time. And then, because she's a good listener and a bit of a snoop, she starts exploring a question darker than suicide: Who killed Alex?
Camilla Läckberg grew up in Fjällbacka, and, on the write-what-you-know theory, serves up a generous helping of hometown characters and their quirks. Conversations can be extended in such a book; they can also be banal and repetitive. But Läckberg never loses sight of a terrible crime, and she uses her small town characters to bring Erica closer to a solution. With, of course, red herrings along the way, and a romance that has Erica making love with her new man five times on their first night together. (It must be true what "they" say about Swedes!)
I met Camilla Läckberg when she came to New York for a convention of international crime novelists. (Thank you yet again, Stieg Larsson.) At the Algonquin Hotel, no one seemed to know who she was. That bothered Läckberg not at all; ignoring her beet-and-goat cheese salad, she leaned in and answered familiar questions as if she'd never heard them before.
Jesse Kornbluth: "Swedish crime fiction" --- how is that different from, say, American crime fiction?
Camilla Läckberg: The pace of Swedish crime fiction is slower --- Stieg Larsson's the exception. And I think we use the environment more.
JK: Ah, Larsson --- the elephant in the room. Was he an influence on your writing?
CL: I'd already published several books when his novels began to come out. He was something new, something unexpected --- especially his intensity. I enjoy him very much, but we're not doing the same thing.
JK: Larsson was political. In the 390 pages of "The Ice Princess," there's only one remark about issues unrelated to the crime: a complaint from Patrik --- a detective assigned to the murder --- about high taxes and inadequate public schools.
CL: A lot of people feel like Patrik. Swedish taxes are high, and we don't get as much as we used to for them. And our schools aren't so good.
JK: Your books are all set in Fjällbacka, a town of 900. Until recently, it was a summer destination, with one famous resident: Ingrid Bergmann. Now that everyone in Sweden knows you grew up there and still summer there, it is more on the tourist map?
CL: Fjällbacka is a six-to-six hour drive from Stockholm.
JK: In the winter, Sweden is a dark country. And in a small town, I imagine winters can be quite painful. Do you remember deep depression?
CL: People in Sweden talk a lot about the weather --- how much we hate it. But Finns get more depressed.
JK: You've said you don't try to come up with a story --- first you look for a motive. Afraid you'll run dry?
CL: There are only a handful of motives. Money, jealousy, revenge, loss. And the same with plots. But once you start getting specific....
JK: Could you kill?
CL: If someone threatened my children.....
JK: I don't think I'm spoiling "The Ice Princess" for American readers if I say that Erica and Patrik find a way to stay warm on cold Swedish nights. And in later books... well, let's just say nature takes its course. How much of you is there in Erica?
CL: I originally wanted her not to be me. So I made her five years older, taller and blonde. But parts of my life started leaking in....
JK: Erica has no children in "The Ice Princess." And you now have three.
CL: Actually, five. I have two with my first husband, one with my fiancé, and then he has two from his marriage.
JK: Is your fiancé a civilian?
CL: He's a policeman.
JK: No way!
CL: I know: like Erica.
JK: How did you meet?
CL: He's well known. We ran into one another at a movie premiere and I asked him to be a resource. After our divorces, we had lunch, and....
JK: How does a policeman become a celebrity in Sweden?
CL: He won Swedish "Survivor" in '97.
JK: Isn't it cheating for a crime novelist to have her very own cop at home?
CL: It's very handy.
JK: You've said you write without an outline. How radical!
CL: I write three sentences, and then I start working. Along the way, I add to that document --- by the time I'm halfway through the book, I may have six pages.
JK: Unreal. But so is this: You watch TV while you write.
CL: Just for company. I'm deeply uninterested in sports, so it's great for me when the Olympics are on.
JK: And you listen to music. Tell me you don't listen to Abba.
CL: I do listen to Abba. And a lot of '80s and '90s pop music.
JK: You've written seven novels starring Erica and set in Fjällbacka. How many more can we expect?
CL: In Sweden, people say ten is the limit. I don't know why. I'm not tired of Erica.
[Cross-posted from HeadButler.com]