Camilla Lackberg is Not “the Next Stieg Larsson”—She’s Better

Amelia magazine from April 2011 with Camilla, author of The Ice Princess and The Preacher, on the cover. Cover line says: “Camilla Läckberg’s weight loss method: I train, but I don’t eat right”
Amelia magazine from April 2011 with Camilla, author of The Ice Princess and The Preacher, on the cover. Cover line says: “Camilla Läckberg’s weight loss method: I train, but I don’t eat right”
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.)

Fjällbacka harbor: Isn’t this lovely? People kill each other here.
Fjällbacka harbor: Isn’t this lovely? People kill each other here.
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!)

Camilla Läckberg and her husband Martin Melin at the Quantum of Solace premier in Sweden
Camilla Läckberg and her husband Martin Melin at the Quantum of Solace premier in Sweden
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.)

The Preacher by Camilla Lackberg
The Preacher by Camilla Lackberg
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.


  1. akhix2001

    Thank you! I have gotten so sick of people raving about Steig Larsson’s Dragon Tattoo series. I too wondered if something was lost in translation but then I realized: the characters are wooden, the books are over-long and it takes forever for something to happen. The translation certainly can’t be blamed for the last two. As Larsson died tragically young it will never occur that his editor says to him “cut out 20,000 words and punch up those characters.” I mean, come on if a character like Lisbeth Salander isn’t catching my attention then she’s just poorly written.

  2. Leslie Gilbert Elman

    And thank *you*! I agree 100 percent. Good editors make great books.

  3. Frida

    I can only agree. She is a much better writer than she gets credit for! You always get what you pay for – and sometimes even more ;-).

  4. Leslie Gilbert Elman

    A writer who gives good value – what more can you ask? Thanks for your comment Frida, and best of luck with your new book!

  5. Joy B

    I’ve read Läckberg and I’ve read Larsson, and while I really enjoy both authors I find my preference is Larsson. The Ice Princess was a really good read: looking forward to reading The Preacher, but find Larssons Millennium series had much more depth was more thought provoking, and I got a better sense of Sweden and its people.

  6. Andrew Kuligowski

    Liked Mankell OK (2nd book much better than 1st, haven’t gotten any further yet). Really liked Larsson, but yeah, they ARE long and a bit graphic. BUT LOVED The Ice Princess, so much so that I made a bookstore a prime stop during a recent visit to Canada just to pick up The Preacher & The Stonecutter! (Then, shortly after that, I learned that they’d released them in the US … but that’s another story).

  7. Asfandancer

    I have read Larsson’s Millennium series and enjoyed all three. They are very in depth and thought provoking, not necessarily for everyone. I’ve also read The Ice Princess and The Preacher, definately an easier read and loved the characters, but you can’t really compare the two. Both were excellent reads yet vastly different. My favorite Scandinavian author however is Jo Nesbø. I literally feel I have lost my best friend when I finish each of his books he makes his characters so real.

  8. jim knight

    lackbergs novels are the first scandinavian Ive read that have no interest whatsoever. the mills and boone of crime fiction. Dreadful.

  9. Stenar

    I find Läckberg’s books to be a little too simplistic. They’re nothing like Larsson’s tour de force. My favorite Scandinavian authors are Jo Nesbø and Karin Fossum.

  10. Stenar

    I liked the first book where Erica was the detective at the beginning. I felt like she originally planned for Erica to be the detective, but then changed her mind. I like Patrik, but found it more interesting when Erica was investigating.

  11. Henna

    Lackberg lacks basic writing skills. Terrible series of books..I keep borrowing from library to see if she improves…alas not…Characters extremely annoying, esp Erica who is so bored with first child it is always watching TV! According to these books Swedish women are lacking emotional integrity and the men are all wimps. Overuse of adjectives and adverbs and agree it is ame quality as Mills and Boon.

  12. Ellen Van Damme

    Question: what do you read when you have read all Camilla Läckberg’s books?

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