Who killed Rosie Larsen? That was the question with which AMC wooed viewers into its new Sunday night series, “The Killing,” adapted from a hit Danish series and relocated to cold, wet Seattle. Pretty teen Rosie went missing in the first episode, and viewers have been following the subsequent investigation by police detectives Sarah Linden and Stephen Holder. You can easily catch up on the first three episodes at http://www.amctv.com/shows/the-killing , because it’s still early days in this atmospheric procedural, where the tears and fears of Rosie’s family mingle with political and private secrets in the steady, drenching rain.
“The Killing” is as gripping as it is grim, and I can’t wait for the fourth of the 13 episodes at 10 p.m. on Sunday. Even though I’m recording as I’m going, I’m still watching it in real time, not really minding the brief commercial interruptions because the narrative is so intense. It’s like you’re reading a really good crime novel and you need to take a deep breath and return to reality.
I do wish I didn’t have to wait week-to-week to find out who killed Rosie Larsen and why. But I’ve had the time to read two thrillers that remind me of “The Killing” with their chilly, disturbing plots about missing girls and secrets, and how people and communities react to domestic abuse and violence against women.
You know NIMBY — not in my backyard? That’s the overall reaction when a young tavern waitress goes missing in rural, upstate New York in Cara Hoffman’s first novel So Much Pretty. Even though Wendy White has grown up in Haedon, where a hometown dairy has morphed into an industrial farm, most people would rather think the late-blooming teen has run away than imagine her as a victim of foul play. Even when her body is found in a ditch nine months later, most of Haedon refuses to accept that anyone local is responsible.
But at least two people suspect otherwise — dogged reporter Stacy Flynn, an outsider from Cleveland, who is researching the environmental impact of the dairy, and precocious 15-year-old Alice Piper, the daughter of a city couple who have given up their idealistic medical career ambitions for the presumed peace of country life. Although Alice is a star student and swim team member, she’s almost as much as an outsider as Flynn, bonding only with neighboring teen Theo, similar in intellect and imagination.
Hoffman tells the story from multiple perspectives — Flynn, Alice, her parents, the mother of a suspect, Wendy herself — as well as police documents, taped interviews, Alice’s school essays. She shifts from past to present like a grasshopper, so the narrative is intentionally fragmented.
Hoffman worked as a reporter, and she assembles her material the way in which a journalist gathers information, piece by piece, one source, now another, always sifting for the facts to tell the story. The result is a bit uneven, but is definitely unsettling, even sinister, as the “big picture” becomes clearer, and violence begets violence in a shocking act of vengeance.
These same themes are at work in Swedish novelist Camilla Lackberg’s The Ice Princess, in which 35-year-old writer Erica Falck returns to her isolated hometown on the snow-blanketed coast. She has come to settle her late parents’ estate, maybe sell their beloved home if her brute of a brother-in-law has his way. But then she discovers the body of her childhood best friend, Alex, an apparent suicide with her wrists slashed in a bathtub of frozen water.
Erica is stunned that such a beautiful, successful woman would kill herself, although it’s been years since she and Alex shared everything. Maybe it’s murder? She turns to police detective Patrik Hedstrom, another childhood friend, for help and some surprise romance.
The circle of suspects is small, and includes a drunken artist, a high-flying businessman, Alex’s enigmatic husband, her secret lover, and a few locals who want the past to stay buried at all costs. Erika decides to write a book about the case, partly to banish the images of blood on the tiles, Alex’s pale corpse, “her hair that looked like a frozen halo.”
But it’s also a way to relive her own childhood and discover who Alex became after her family left Fjallbacka. “Something had happened the year before Alex moved away, and nobody had ever bothered to tell Erica what it was.”
Lackberg’s a best-selling writer in Sweden, and it’s easy to see way. Fans of Nordic crime fiction — Larsson, Mankell, Nesbo — will chill out accordingly. I’ve already ordered the second book in the series, The Preacher, which publishes the end of April. Now to set the DVR for “The Killing.”
Open Book: I borrowed a copy of So Much Pretty by Cara Hoffman (Simon & Schuster) from the the wonderful Orange County Library, and I received a copy of the trade paperback edition of The Ice Princess by Camilla Lackberg (Free Press) as part of a web promotion.