I recently read two crime novels, the Ice Princess by Camilla Lackberg and Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo and am reviewing them here together under this particular post title as both these stories have a snowy, cold and bleak background. Sort of Ethan Frome-ish if you will pardon the allusion.
The Ice Princess is the book that came before The Preacher which I read and reviewed earlier in the year here. I enjoyed that one very much and, though it is probably not a good idea to read the first one second, I rather liked it as I already know what is going to happen to some of the characters introduced in this particular title and can chart their progress. I quite often do this with a series of stories and find it adds a rather quirky appeal when I can spot a protagonist doing one thing and I KNOW that he is going to end up doing another in a later story.
The Lackberg book opens with the death of the beautiful, but emotionally cold Alex, who is discovered dead in her bath tub with her wrists slashed in what looks like suicide. Somebody is sitting next to her: "A thin sheet of ice had formed in the bathtub...he thought she looked like an ice princess lying there. An ice princess...his love for her had never been stronger. He caressed her arm as if he ware caressing the soul that had left her body. He didn't look back when he left"
Ok so it seems we have the murderer watching his victim die. Or do we?
Back home after the death of her parents is Erica Falck, a childhood friend of Alex. She meets up with local detective Patrick Hedstrom who is investigating the case and as they become allies in investigating the life and character of the victim, not only are they drawn together but they also begin to uncover a very unsavoury link to a past disappearance of many years ago.
Well plotted, lots of 'typical' characters: lazy police chief who wants to snaffle all the headlines, a detective who is sitting out the days until his retirement, an eager beaver new member of the team, the real brains of it all, Patrick, divorced and lonely - yep, they are all there, but don't think that Camilla Lackberg assigns all the actions and characteristics to them that you might expect to find, some yes, others no. Tightly written, ingenious and absorbing, I enjoyed this one as much as the Preacher and look forward to reading more by this writer.
The second in my 'Icy' murders is Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo. I gather that the author used to write romance novels for Harlequin (the US equivalent to Mills & Boon) and this is her first crime novel. Well, I am sure the romances bring in the money to pay the bills thus affording her time to write this exciting and well written crime, but I feel that in this new genre she has found her metier. She must be very versatile to be able to switch from one style of writing to another.
Painters Mill is a sleepy rural town where its citizens, both Amish and 'English'live together quite happily. As with the Ice Princess, the germ of this story lies in the past where a series of brutal, unsolved murders shattered the lives of this community. When the killings stopped Painters Mill settled back into its quiet existence until sixteen years later a body of a young woman is found in a snowy field with numerals carved on her abdomen as in the previous deaths. Do we have a new murderer on the loose playing copycat or has the old killer re-emerged?
In this novel, once again we have the stock characters, the town councilors resenting the fact that the new Chief of Police is Kate Burkholder a former member of the Amish community, a self aggrandising local Sheriff out for re-election and enjoying the publicity this series of new murders brings, and then the maverick detective from out of town who is foisted on Kate. He is a widower, burnt out after his family were murdered and he went to seek revenge, on the brink of alcoholism and on his last chance mission.
The usual mix, but it works. It is a bit Grisham like in that every car is 'gunned' away from the kerb and phone numbers are 'punched' in and there are a fair few cliched sentences. However, it is exciting stuff and as the bodies pile up and the reader starts working out who could have done it, the momentum doesn't stop until an exciting, incredibly filmic denouement.
I did guess who had done it working on the premise of the most unlikely yet likely suspect, if that makes sense. When you have read as many crime novels as I have patterns do emerge, so I suppose from that point of view this story is a tad predictable. However, this does not stop it from being very well written, tightly plotted and a darn good read.
Always good to find new crime authors. I have only just discovered Edmund Crispin and have read two of his in the last week - right up my street, erudite, witty and spot on with a great amateur detective in Gervaise Fen who just happens to be a professor of English Literature at Oxford. Marvellous and I note that several of these are due for reprint soon so onto my wish list they go....