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The Stone Cutter, By Camilla Läckberg

Ice queen still chilling the blood

At the age of 36, Camilla Läckberg is probably the hottest female writer in Sweden at the moment. Her novels – all set in the coastal town of Fjällbacka (her birthplace) – are Scandinavian bestsellers. Even her private life is of interest. Her recent divorce was exhaustively covered by the Swedish tabloids.

Läckberg's first novel (of seven) to reach the UK was The Ice Princess (2002). It refracted elements of Agatha Christie through a hyperboreal Nordic sensibility, with a women's body frozen solid in a bath of ice. Detective Patrik Hedström, who figured in that book, makes a welcome return in The Stone Cutter.

One of the reasons for the success of Scandinavian crime fiction in this country is its unsentimental readiness to confront the less admirable aspects of human behaviour. Here, Läckberg's stamping ground of Fjällbacka is the scene of a small tragedy: the body of a little girl is found in a fisherman's net. Has she drowned accidentally? A post-mortem suggests otherwise, and Hedström, the isolated resort's copper, has the unenviable task of tracking down the murderer of a child both he and his partner, Erica, had met.

Patrik's objectivity is coloured as he himself has recently become a father, but he continues with an investigation troubling for both him and his cloistered society. He has to make a community accept unpalatable truths about itself as well as bring to justice a cold-blooded killer.

Läckberg's job is to make the reader pleasurably uncomfortable - one of her ironclad skills. This latest novel (translated by Steven T Murray) adds another level cannily designed to unsettle us: a measured examination of the elements of determinism in human nature, and the readiness to cut loose moral restraint when passionately held desires are frustrated. There is also a lacerating picture of an unrestrained female psyche, both attractive and monstrous. Läckberg may be of little interest to the more salacious British tabloids, but she should be firmly in the consciousness of the readers of this newspaper.

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