The Ice Princess (Patrick Hedstrom and Erica Falck)

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9780007421565: The Ice Princess (Patrick Hedstrom and Erica Falck)

The psychological thriller debut of No.1 bestselling Swedish crime sensation Camilla Lackberg. Returning to her hometown after the funeral of her parents, writer Erica Falck finds a community on the brink of tragedy. The death of her childhood friend, Alex, is just the beginning. Her wrists slashed, her body frozen in an ice cold bath, it seems that she has taken her own life. Erica conceives a memoir about the beautiful but remote Alex, one that will answer questions about their lost friendship. While her interest grows to an obsession, local detective Patrik Hedstrom is following his own suspicions about the case. But it is only when they start working together that the truth begins to emerge about the small town with a deeply disturbing past.

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About the Author:

Born in 1974, Camilla Lackberg graduated from Gothenburg University of Economics, before moving to Stockholm where she worked for a few years as an economist. However, a course in creative crime writing became the trigger to a drastic change of career. Her first four novels all became Swedish No 1 bestsellers. She lives in a suburb of Stockholm.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Eilert Berg was not a happy man. His breathing was strained and his breath came out of his mouth in little white puffs, but his health was not what he considered his biggest problem.

Svea had been so gorgeous in her youth, and he had hardly been able to stand the wait before he could get her into the bridal bed. She had seemed tender, affectionate, and a bit shy. Her true nature had come out after a period of youthful lust that was far too brief. She had put her foot down and kept him on a tight leash for close to fifty years. But Eilert had a secret. For the first time, he saw an opportunity for a little freedom in the autumn of his years and he did not intend to squander it.

He had toiled hard as a fisherman all his life, and the income had been just enough to provide for Svea and the children. After he retired they had only their meager pensions to live on. With no money in his pocket there was no chance of starting his life over somewhere else, alone. Now this opportunity had appeared like a gift from above, and it was laughably easy besides. But if someone wanted to pay him a shameless amount of money for a few hours’ work each week, that wasn’t his problem. He wasn’t about to complain. The banknotes in the wooden box behind the compost heap had piled up impressively in only a year, and soon he would have enough to be able to move to warmer climes.

He stopped to catch his breath on the last steep approach to the house and massaged his arthritic hands. Spain, or maybe Greece, would thaw the chill that seemed to come from deep inside him. Eilert reckoned that he had at least ten years left before it would be time to turn up his toes, and he intended to make the most of them, so he’d be damned if he’d spend them at home with that old bitch.

His daily walk in the early morning hours had been his only time spent in peace and quiet; it also meant that he got some much-needed exercise. He always took the same route, and people who knew his habits would often come out and have a chat. He particularly enjoyed talking with the pretty girl in the house farthest up the hill by the Håkebacken school. She was there only on weekends, always alone, but she was happy to take the time to talk about the weather. Miss Alexandra was interested in Fjällbacka in the old days as well, and this was a topic that Eilert enjoyed discussing. She was nice to look at too. That was something he still appreciated, even though he was old now. Of course there had been a good deal of gossip about her, but once you started listening to women’s chatter you wouldn’t have much time for anything else.

About a year ago, she had asked him whether he might consider stopping in at the house as long as he was passing by on Friday mornings. The house was old, and both the furnace and the plumbing were unreliable. She didn’t like coming home to a cold house on the weekends. She would give him a key, so he could just look in and see that everything was in order. There had been a number of break-ins in the area, so he was also supposed to check for signs of tampering with the doors and windows.

The task didn’t seem particularly burdensome, and once a month there was an envelope with his name on it waiting in her mailbox, containing what was, to him, a princely sum. He also thought it was nice to feel useful. It was so hard to go around idle after he had worked his whole life.

The gate hung crookedly and it groaned when he pushed on it, swinging it in toward the garden path, which had not yet been shoveled clear of snow. He wondered whether he ought to ask one of the boys to help her with that. It was no job for a woman.

He fumbled with the key, careful not to drop it into the deep snow. If he had to get down on his knees, he’d never be able to get up again. The steps to the front porch were icy and slick, so he had to hold on to the railing. Eilert was just about to put the key in the lock when he saw that the door was ajar. In astonishment, he opened it and stepped into the entryway.

“Hello, is anybody at home?”

Maybe she’d arrived a bit early today. There was no answer. He saw his own breath coming out of his mouth and realized that the house was freezing cold. All at once he didn’t know what to do. There was something seriously wrong, and he didn’t think it was just a faulty furnace.

He walked through the rooms. Nothing seemed to have been touched. The house was as neat as always. The VCR and TV were where they belonged. After looking through the entire ground floor, Eilert went upstairs. The staircase was steep and he had to grab on hard to the banister. When he reached the upper floor, he went first to the bedroom. It was feminine but tastefully furnished, and just as neat as the rest of the house. The bed was made and there was a suitcase standing at the foot. Nothing seemed to have been unpacked. Now he felt a bit foolish. Maybe she’d arrived a little early, discovered that the furnace wasn’t working, and gone out to find someone to fix it. And yet he really didn’t believe that explanation. Something was wrong. He could feel it in his joints, the same way he sometimes felt an approaching storm. He cautiously continued looking through the house. The next room was a large loft, with a sloping ceiling and wooden beams. Two sofas faced each other on either side of a fireplace. There were some magazines spread out on the coffee table, but otherwise everything was in its place. He went back downstairs. There, too, everything looked the way it should. Neither the kitchen nor the living room seemed any different than usual. The only room remaining was the bathroom. Something made him pause before he pushed open the door. There was still not a sound in the house. He stood there hesitating for a moment, realized that he was acting a bit ridiculously, and firmly pushed open the door.

Seconds later, he was hurrying to the front door as fast as his age would permit. At the last moment, he remembered that the steps were slippery and grabbed hold of the railing to keep from tumbling headlong down the steps. He trudged through the snow on the garden path and swore when the gate stuck. Out on the pavement he stopped, at a loss what to do. A little way down the street he caught sight of someone approaching at a brisk walk and recognized Tore’s daughter Erica. He called out to her to stop.

She was tired. So deathly tired. Erica Falck shut down her computer and went out to the kitchen to refill her coffee cup. She felt under pressure from all directions. The publishers wanted a first draft of the book in August, and she had hardly begun. The book about Selma Lagerlöf, her fifth biography about a Swedish woman writer, was supposed to be her best, but she was utterly drained of any desire to write. It was more than a month since her parents had died, but her grief was just as fresh today as when she received the news. Cleaning out her parents’ house had not gone as quickly as she had hoped, either. Everything brought back memories. It took hours to pack every carton, because with each item she was engulfed in images from a life that sometimes felt very close and sometimes very, very far away. But the packing couldn’t be rushed. Her apartment in Stockholm had been sublet for the time being, and she reckoned she might as well stay here at her parents’ home in Fjällbacka and write. The house was a bit out of town in Sälvik, and the surroundings were calm and peaceful.

Erica sat down on the enclosed veranda and looked out over the islands and skerries. The view never failed to take her breath away. 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. Her father would have loved a day like this.

She felt a catch in her throat, and the air in the house all at once seemed stifling. She decided to go for a walk. The thermometer showed fifteen degrees below zero, and she put on layer upon layer of clothing. She was still cold when she stepped out the door, but it didn’t take long before her brisk pace warmed her up.

Outside it was gloriously quiet. There were no other people about. The only sound she heard was her own breathing. This was a stark contrast to the summer months when the town was teeming with life. Erica preferred to stay away from Fjällbacka in the summertime. Although she knew that the survival of the town depended on tourism, she still couldn’t shake the feeling that every summer the place was invaded by a swarm of grasshoppers. A many-headed monster that slowly, year by year, swallowed the old fishing village by buying up the houses near the water, which created a ghost town for nine months of the year.

Fishing had been Fjällbacka’s livelihood for centuries. The unforgiving environment and the constant struggle to survive, when everything depended on whether the herring came streaming back or not, had made the people of the town strong and rugged. Then Fjällbacka had become picturesque and began to attract tourists with fat wallets. At the same time, the fish lost their importance as a source of income, and Erica thought she could see the necks of the permanent residents bend lower with each year that passed. The young people moved away and the older inhabitants dreamed of bygone times. She too was among those who had chosen to leave.

She picked up her pace some more and turned left toward the hill leading up to the Håkebacken school. As Erica approached the top of the hill she heard Eilert Berg yelling something she couldn’t really make out. He was waving his arms and coming toward her.

“She’s dead.”

Eilert was breathing hard in small, short gasps, a nasty wheezing sound coming from his lungs.

“Calm down, Eilert. What happened?”

“She’s lying in there! Dead.”

He pointed at the big, light-blue frame house at the crest of the hill, giving her an entreating...

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