Swedish author Camilla Lackberg

Her fans call her the rock star of Nordic noir. But Swedish economist-turned-crime writer Camilla Lackberg is quick to tell you that it's only when she is on a book tour in Spain and France that she gets to actually feel like a rock star. There, her books, which account for more than 12 million sales worldwide, rocket to number one on bestseller lists soon after publication and people line up for hours ahead of signings.

"They go really crazy," says Lackberg, who also happens to be Sweden's biggest- selling author and, thanks to the runaway international success of her Fjallbacka murder-mystery series, is now the sixth most-read writer in Europe. Given that her first novel in the series was published in 2003 and her eighth, Buried Angels, is just hitting global bookshelves, Lackberg's meteoric rise in the crime realm is nothing short of staggering.

"It's not quite as overnight as it's is sometimes portrayed so I did get used to it little by little," she says, "but still to me it's quite bizarre in a way."

Not that the 39-year-old author is averse to either her success or analysing the reasons for it. While she credits Stieg Larsson's Millennium series for "kicking open the door to Scandinavian crime, especially in the US", she believes that what sets her own novels apart is their protagonists, detective Patrik Hedstrom and his crime writer wife Erica Falck, who together solve psychologically complex, intricately plotted murder mysteries, but whose own lives play out in very ordinary, domestic ways.

"People really get attached to them, they can identify with them so think I've hit on something that is more human than Swedish. And I do lend a lot of my own life to Erica and Patrik's lives and that is also, I think, what gives the novels an authenticity that appeals to readers."

Until her divorce last year from her second husband, Swedish policeman, author and TV personality Martin Melin, Lackberg's life parallelled that of her protagonists in an uncannily close way. But she says her divorce will never be mirrored in the lives of her fictional characters as other aspects of her life have.

"I've promised my readers that Erica and Patrik will never get a divorce, so that will never happen. They complement each other in a very good way and now it feels like it was meant to be. To me the couple is one main character." Unlike her compatriot Henning Mankell, Lackberg is also famously averse to including any political or social agenda in her novels, insisting that her primary concern is "to entertain and tell a good story".

That said, she admits she does sometimes put her own opinions on certain things into her books. "Things that I feel very strongly about. One of those things is this party we have in Sweden, called the Swedish Democrats. I was devastated when they were voted into parliament a few years ago because that means it's not only the skinheads and far-Right who are voting for them; it's actually your neighbour. So I wanted to write about that just a little bit and take the mickey out of them in Buried Angels."

The result is a minor plot twist in the novel which was delivered to her publisher four days before Anders Breivik's horrific shooting rampage at Utoya in Norway in 2011 where 77 people were killed, yet mirrors his political motives in chilling ways. "It was one of those moments where it felt very strange to be creating fiction," Lackberg says, "where you happen to touch upon something that hits so close to home but the reality was worse. It was just so horrible."

But the novel's main plot twist derives from a more distant past. Lackberg has drawn on a rumoured pre-World War II visit by Hermann Goering to one of the islands near her home town of Fjallbacka, where the novels are set, as well as the history of Bohuslan granite - a stone that Albert Speer supposedly chose to build Germania - to add another layer to her compelling mystery. Integral, too, to the book's plot and its title is the phenomenon of women who, for a lump sum, would take in babies from unwed mothers, then kill them.

"There are some well-known court cases in Scandinavia where some women killed babies and were called angel makers. The most famous case is of a woman called Hilda Nilsson who drowned eight babies and was hung for the crime. I was really intrigued by that. I'm very inspired by things from actual history, and I weave my own story around it."

Lackberg penned her first crime novel, The Ice Princess, as an assignment in a crime-writing course given to her by her mother and first husband. She chose her home town as its setting because she has been in thrall to "the whole small-town murder-mystery thing" ever since devouring Agatha Christie's Miss Marple stories at the age of seven.

She also remains in thrall to the psychological factors behind murder rather than the murder itself, and says that before she turned to writing crime.

"I was one of the unhappiest economists ever. I now love what I do. It's a wonderful job meeting people who keep telling you how wonderful what you do is. That never happened to me as an economist.

"No one ever said 'Oh you did such a wonderful spreadsheet yesterday'. But now people approach me on the street to say 'I just want to say I love what you do'.

"And that," she adds, "is something to be thankful for."

The West Australian

Popular videos

Compare & Save

Our Picks

Follow Us

More from The West