All seven thrillers written by Camilla Lackberg have hit the bestsellers list in her native Sweden, and most have landed at the top or near the top spot in other European countries, with The Jinx #1 in France in May and #4 in Spain. New York independent publisher Pegasus Books is betting her popularity will translate in the U.S., having published her first book, The Ice Princess, June 17 with a 25,000-copy first printing while inking deals for her second and third books. "We're working on the fourth," said Jessica Case, Lackberg's editor at Pegasus. Recent stories about Scandinavian authors in the New York Times and Washington Post have spurred even more interest in the Swedish thriller genre, and Case said Pegasus is weighing various offers for paperback rights to Princess, having already turned down a pre-empt. Lackberg, who was in the U.S. earlier this spring, will return July 6–11 to promote the novel. In addition to media interviews and signings, Lackberg will appear on a panel July 10 at Thriller Fest discussing how thriller authors can cross the language and culture divide.
During her first American visit, PW talked to the 35-year-old Lackberg about her writing career and why Swedish mysteries are doing so well across Europe. All of Lackberg's stories are set in her hometown of Fjallbacka, a coastal town of 1,000 where there is indeed an Ingrid Bergman Square. The actress spent time there and is well remembered. Lackberg left home at 17 and became "The most unhappy economist in Sweden," but she had always been interested in crime fiction. "I found my father's Agatha Christie mysteries and read every single one," she said, citing Ann Rule as another favorite author. Her career began to build after she took a writing course that was a gift from her ex-husband and her mother—when Lackberg was 24.
Lackberg's novels highlight Sweden's weather. The dead woman who opens the story in Princess is in a bathtub with slit wrists—and a film of ice on the surface of the bathwater. But what interests Lackberg is character and relationships, which makes her stories not only whodunits but psychological studies. Erica Falck, the protagonist of Princess and a recurring character, is a smalltown girl, but one who felt the claustrophobia of Fjallbacka.
Erica and her boyfriend, police detective Patrik Hedstrom, are a popular fictional couple in Sweden, and fans have followed their meeting and courtship. When Lackberg got divorced (which was covered in all the tabloids, except in Fjallbacka where, respectfully, shopkeepers did not display the news posters that were everywhere else) fans would come up to her and plead: "please don't let Erica and Patrik breakup, too."
Scandinavia is an excellent setting for crime because of the harsh weather and a genteel facade with dark undertones. While Stieg Larsson has brought Swedish crime fiction to international attention, the country has been a setting for mysteries for a long time. Now it's getting the attention it deserves as young authors like Lackberg use the Swedish character and smalltown life to create novels with universal themes.
"In Sweden, it's important what people will say about you—it's considered correct to keep a low profile, a careful temperament, not to lose face," Lackberg said. "For example, in Sweden people would not argue in public, but there is a lot beneath the surface, which makes a perfect setting for a crime novel."