Camilla Lackberg: The rock star of Nordic noir

The crime writer outsells Stieg Larsson in her native Sweden. Susie Mesure joins the fanclub

It's pitch black and I'm lost in Stockholm. I'm having Girl with the Dragon Tattoo flashbacks as I wander through spookily quiet streets. All I can think is thank God it's Camilla Lackberg I'm meeting tomorrow. The murders in her books all happen miles from the Swedish capital, in the tiny fishing village of Fjällbacka, on the west coast. Even so, my heart doesn't stop thudding until I'm ensconced in a bar with a glass of red and her latest thriller, The Lost Boy.

If it's a mystery why a country as sedate as Sweden has spawned such a crop of world-beating crime writers, then the plot really thickens with a visit to Fjällbacka. There's more going on in my living room than this seaside resort. And yet Lackberg has spun seven books, and counting, out of her home town where Erica, her fictional nosey writer-cum-amateur sleuth also lives with her crime-fighting husband Patrik.

Sipping a triple-shot latte in the brasserie where we meet, 38-year-old Lackberg says that it's because Sweden is so safe that crime literature has taken off. "Crime stories are our version of sitting round a camp fire and telling tales. We enjoy being scared under safe circumstances. That's why there's no tradition of crime writing in countries that have wars."

She started young: aged four, she wrote a story about Santa Claus, which goes from Mr Claus and his wife holding hands and smiling to her "lying on the ground, beaten to death, blood running from her Santa hat" in just four pages. But it took a crime-writing course (a present from her first husband) in her late twenties to give Lackberg, who graduated as an economist, the confidence to abandon her job in marketing and try her hand as a crime novelist. She spun her first book, The Ice Princess, out of a course assignment, and hasn't looked back, selling 10 million books in 55 countries. That includes 4.5 million in Sweden – home to just nine million people – where she is the country's most profitable author, outselling Stieg Larsson.

She gets the biggest kick out of her success in the UK, where her book sales are growing faster than any other Scandi writer, because her crime heroes – Agatha Christie in particular – are all British. "I fell absolutely head over heels in love with her books and read them all by the time I was 11. Now, my rock-star moments are coming to the UK and meeting writers like Ian Rankin."

Here in Sweden, Lackberg is the one with rock-star status. She sweeps into the brasserie, petite in tight black trousers, high-heeled boots, and a black coat, which – never one to miss a marketing trick – has her new detective show, Fjällbacka Morden emblazoned on the back in white lettering. She's as pretty as a pin-up, all big, mascaraed eyes and long hair swept back in a side plait.

As well as most Swedes, I feel like I already know her: for them she's hard to avoid, what with her stints on reality TV shows such as Sweden's versions of Strictly Come Dancing and Ready Steady Cook; her sideline as a cookery writer; her foray into children's books; and a tabloid-tastic marriage break-up. This is deliberate. Brand Lackberg is carefully cultivated. "I've always viewed myself as a brand. When I started 10 years ago, that was very controversial. 'Marketing' and 'PR' were dirty words for the literary world, but that has changed. Once the book is finished, I want as many people as possible to read it."

I "met" Lackberg through the pages of her Fjällbacka recipe book, a joint project with a schoolfriend, Christian Hellberg, who just happens to be one of Sweden's hottest chefs. Then there's her second marriage to Martin Melin, a celebrity copper, if you will: he won Sweden's version of Survivor in 1997. Hence the red-top interest in their break up. Except in Fjällbacka, where the townsfolk are "very protective". She adds: "When my divorce became headline news. It was all over the ... what do you call the posters outside shops? Billboards, yes. There's three places in Fjällbacka that sell tabloids and none of them put them up that day out of respect for me and my mum."

Melin, a plain-clothes policeman who does security detail when the likes of David Cameron are in town, is himself now an author. The blog Coola Pappor (Cool Daddies), begun while Melin was off work with their baby, is now a book. And Melin will join the growing ranks of Scandi crime authors in the autumn when his first detective story hits the shelves.

Lackberg, as befits a Swedish mum, is hot on the strengths of daddy daycare. "It's fantastic because kids get two parents instead of one. In Sweden, we've moved away from the notion that mothers have some magical, special bond with children. That's bullshit. Daddies are absolutely as close. It has more to do with who is there every day."

Unlike the work of cohorts such as Henning Mankell, Lackberg's books are light on the political subtext. So I jump on a comment in The Lost Boy lamenting the divide between boys and girls kicking in early. Where does the mother-of-three stand on the great gender conundrum? "This debate has got ridiculous. There are kindergartens that make girls play with cars and boys with dolls. I sometimes think that people need to get a life and stop obsessing over stupid things."

Her kids, she says, can play with whatever they like – and do. They also get free rein to watch scary movies. Her eight-year-old daughter is "hooked" on crime stories, and "loves animal horror movies": mother-daughter bonding is a video fest of Jaws, Snakes on a Plane, Arachnophobia, even The Fly. And yes, her daughter also likes to write scary stories. She smiles: "I might have fostered the next generation of crime writers in Sweden."

The Lost Boy by Camilla Lackberg

HarperCollins £12.99

"She wondered who the dead man was. Patrik hadn't wanted to say much on the phone. All he had told her was that a man had been found dead in Fjällbacka. She was eager to hear more. As a writer, a keen sense of curiosity was essential ... Even if Patrik declined to tell her, the news would soon spread. That was the advantage and disadvantage of living in a small town like Fjällbacka ...."

News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate