Camilla Lackberg (Camilla Läckberg) can’t possibly be telling the truth.
Even in a clingy cheetah-print wrap dress accessorized with delicate silver jewelry and looking every inch the glamour puss, there’s an air of efficiency about her. She claims to be a procrastinator, but you have the feeling that she doesn’t tolerate slackers.
She’s written two cookbooks and she’ll tell you she makes the world’s greatest risotto, but she’s such a petite little thing you’ll find it hard to believe she actually eats it. In April she released a kids’ book about Charlie, the youngest of her five kids, but when she was a precocious four-year-old becoming fascinated with the written word she crafted her first short story—a Christmas tale in which Santa kills his wife.
She doesn’t look scary at all until you get to the shoes. Black four-inch stiletto heels with wide straps across the instep and ankle. That’s when you figure it’s time for a reassessment.
As with many things—particularly crime novels—you don’t discover the truth about Camilla Lackberg until you get to the very bottom. “A good psychologist could tell me where my interest in crime comes from, but I don’t dare to go because he might bring me back to normal and then I couldn’t write,” she says.
During a reading last March at the Swedish Church in New York, she seems incredibly normal. Or as normal as a mom of five who plots murder for a living can be. (Who knows, maybe all moms are ready to whack someone at any given moment.) The audience likes her and I do, too, even if the shoes leave me with misgivings.
Americans who are late to the Scandinavian crime party—and that’s just about all of them—call Camilla Lackberg “the next Stieg Larsson.” In fact, the opposite is true. From where we sit, Lackberg appears to be riding the Larsson wave, but it would be more accurate to call Stieg Larsson “the next Camilla Lackberg” because Lackberg came first. And she’s better.
Lackberg’s debut novel, The Ice Princess, came out in 2002 in Sweden and over the past nine years has been translated into a dozen or so languages, including Arabic and Catalan. The fact that it wasn’t published in the United States until 2010 has nothing to do with her viability; she’s the sixth best-selling author in Europe. (Like I said, late to the party.)
Lackberg says Agatha Christie was her first literary hero. That’s easy to see. Her novels are set in the tiny, picturesque fishing town of Fjällbacka on Sweden’s west coast, where the winter population tops out at about 1,000, everyone knows each other and everything hinges on why people do what they do to themselves and each other.
On the other hand, Lackberg insists she became tongue-tied when meeting her current literary crush Michael Connelly at a publishing industry event not long ago. That’s harder to believe of the woman who graces the covers of Sweden’s top-selling women’s magazines and traipses the red carpet with her husband Martin Melin, former police officer and first winner of Expedition: Robinson, the Swedish reality show that spawned Survivor. (Late to the party again!)
I read a lot of Scandinavian novels and I confess that Larsson’s Millennium series left me cold. I found the books flat—bordering on tedious. (You know there’s a problem when you’re most interested in the fact that Lisbeth Salander owns the same Ikea desk you do.) Wrongly, I blamed the translation for the book’s lack of vibrancy. More wrongly still, I assumed that Lackberg’s book was better because it had a better translator. Then I realized the translators were one and the same.
Here then, I issue an apology to Stephen T. Murray aka Reg Keeland, who translated both the Millennium series and The Ice Princess, not to mention five novels by Henning Mankell. It’s not you; it’s them. Camilla’s books are better because Camilla’s books are better. (And your blog, which I discovered as I was writing this, is about to become one of my go-to spots for news on Scandinavian fiction.)
Furthermore, I issue a call to everyone who read the wordy Larsson or the gloomy Mankell and said, “Feh”: Before you write off Swedish crime fiction, try Camilla Lackberg. For while Larsson’s characters are marred by a lack of dimension and believability that verges on Michael Crichton-esque and Mankell is just ornery, Lackberg writes about people you could actually imagine knowing, with feelings and interests you could actually imagine having, doing things you could actually imagine doing (with the possible exception of killing people). She’s good, and she has seven best-selling crime novels to prove it—with an eighth on the way plus a deal to do a 12-episode original series for Swedish TV based on her Fjällbacka series characters, author Erica Falck and detective Patrik Hedström.
Here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. Lackberg’s second novel, The Preacher, came out in hardcover at the end of April. The rest, we can only hope, are destined to follow. Finally, the party has begun.
Click on the Nordic Invasion tag for more articles on chilling crime fiction from the North.
Leslie Gilbert Elman blogs intermittently at My Life in Laundry. She’s written two trivia books and has a few unpublished fiction manuscripts in the closet to keep the skeletons company.