Book review: The Ice Beneath Her, by Camilla Grebe

26 09 2017

Camilla Grebe is a Swedish economist, audiobook publisher, and crime fiction writer. She has co-written four novels (featuring psychologist Siri Bergman) with her sister Åsa Träff, the first two of which (also available in English translation) were shortlisted for Best Swedish Crime Novel of the Year; another three novels (the ‘Moscow Noir’ trilogy, as yet unavailable in English) were coauthored with Paul Leander-Engström.

TheIceBeneathHer

The Ice Beneath Her (Älskaren från huvudkontoret, 2015, translated by Elizabeth Clark Wessel) is Grebe’s first solo novel. It concerns the discovery, in the basement of clothing-store magnate Jesper Orre’s well-appointed home, of a young woman’s body, her severed head placed upright on the floor some distance from the rest of her corpse. The police’s suspicion is that it’s an extreme case of domestic violence; but Orre, who is missing, has long been secretive about his love life (due to hostile media attention) and the woman’s identity cannot be established. The story is narrated in alternating chapters by Peter Lindgren, one of the detectives on the case; Hanne Lagerlind-Schön, a behavioural psychologist who has previously worked with the police on several investigations, and is brought in as an adviser; and (in a sequence occurring along an earlier timeline, in the months before the murder) Emma Bohman, a young sales clerk at one of Orre’s Clothes&More stores, whom Orre has impregnated and then dumped.

Grebe’s evocation of the lives of her troubled protagonists—Peter badly handled an affair with Hanne, some years ago, and now exhibits considerable difficulty working with her; Hanne also struggles with this baggage, and with the further need to disguise from her colleagues the early-onset dementia with which she’s now afflicted; Emma is a survivor of a childhood shared with a suicidal father and an alcoholic, emotionally abusive mother, and punctuated by a schoolyard sexual assault—is impressively detailed. The story, which is studded with unanticipated pivots into new directions, takes some time to properly establish itself, but becomes progressively more engrossing as the questions mount up and the answers remain elusive. There’s a sense in which the entire novel is a long-form thimble-and-shell game, with a few key aspects of the central murder (for example, the particulars of its ritualism, the provenance of the murder weapon) that I felt weren’t adequately addressed in the rush to climax; but overall, there’s a pleasing solidity to the story and a plausibly gritty depth to the characterisation.

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