Camilla Lackberg: ‘Our tell-it-like-it-is crime fiction shows people the true Sweden'
Jun 5, 2020
Swedish crime sensation Camilla Lackberg tells Barry Forshaw about being a tabloid target and her latest steamy vengeance thriller
Camilla Lackberg is throwing a light on the unvarnished truth (Photo: Magnus Ragnvid)
Camilla Lackberg is the queen of Swedish noir and a celebrity of JK Rowling proportions in her own country. The shelves of European bookshops groan under the weight of her novels, their windows festooned with her glamorous image (including life-sized cardboard cut-outs). At one point, the Swedish tabloids were full of lurid discussions of her private life, with a very public focus on her relationship with a Swedish policeman who was also the first winner of a reality show called Survivor. Surely, I ask, getting off the books pages into the news columns is something many authors would kill for? “I must admit,” she replies wryly, “it really used to annoy me. But I suppose I’ve got used to it now. In any case, the tabloids in Sweden are nothing like as intrusive as those you have in Britain.”
The lively attention paid to Lackberg’s non-literary activities perhaps inevitably found its way into her work. The Gallows Bird, published in the UK in 2011, explored the corrosive treatment of brainless reality TV. Such international subjects aside, though, what readers really love about Lackberg’s books, which have been translated into more than 40 languages, is the specific locale: a picturesque Swedish fishing village called Fjällbacka. i's TV newsletter: what you should watch next
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“It is a small town with a population of fewer than 900,” says Lackberg. “And I’m very comfortable describing such a place – it was, in fact, my home town, though I now live in Stockholm. The location is not a million miles away in character from Agatha Christie ’s St Mary Mead – and she has always been a great inspiration for me. “When I started to create the background for my crime novels, I decided very early on to set them in the little town where I grew up. In my books, Fjällbacka is actually one of the principal characters, and that was a very conscious strategy on my part.”
Lackberg’s human characters, however, are nothing like Christie’s elderly lady sleuth and eccentric Belgian expat. “My characters,” she insists, “are very Swedish. I have the writer Erica Falck and a policeman with whom she has a relationship, Patrik Hedström. As happened in my own life.”
Though Lackberg echoes the cloistered setting of her English predecessor, the Swedish writer deals in far darker, more gruesome territory, with evil that has a wider reach. Despite the “cosy” accoutrements, she is prepared to shock – a fact that is particularly true of her new book, The Gilded Cage, a standalone centring on a woman attempting to avenge the murder of her daughter, which begins with a no-holds-barred sex scene, complete with anatomical descriptions not to be found in Christie. 'I wanted to write an extreme book with a wronged heroine that set people back in their seats'
Where did this new frankness come from? “Oh, I wanted to write an extreme book that really set people back in their seats,” she smiles. “I wanted it to be a combustible combination of [Fay Weldon’s] The Lives and Loves of a She-Devil, with a vengeful, wronged heroine, and the kind of steamy, erotic sagas Sidney Sheldon used to write. But it’s still very much a crime novel – being a crime novelist is in my DNA.”
The best crime fiction is always about something more than just the commission of crime. So what issues does Lackberg want to address in her books? “I am, of course, always dealing with Swedish society,” she says. “For some reason, people in other countries seem to have an idealised picture of Sweden. But perhaps because of our tell-it-like-it-is crime fiction, foreigners have had a revelation: our country actually has crime, prejudice, social problems, pollution, just like every other country in the world. And now with coronavirus and our avoidance of lockdown, we’re definitely the bad guys!”
And what about the rise of the far right in Sweden ? “Political issues have a way of forcing themselves into one’s work. In my books, I’ve written about a far-right party that steams ahead in the Swedish parliament. Which is based on the truth. It has surprised and saddened me that people will vote for these small-minded individuals. “Of course, having said that, I believe many of the old socialist ideas needed to be retired or thrown out, so a shake-up is not necessarily a bad thing.”
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