SinC25, #7: Asa Larsson

Not long ago I finished reading Until Thy Wrath Be Past, Asa Larsson’s most recent book in the Rebecka Martinsson – Anna-Maria Mella series set in the far north of Sweden, and sighed with satisfaction. It’s an excellent book in a wonderful series, and so it makes sense for me to include Asa Larsson in my attempt at the expert level of the Sisters in Crime 25th Anniversary Challenge.

Asa Larsson is an excellent writer, and in this series she adds to her stylish writing a group of intriguing characters and a vivid setting that the author infuses with love. Its one of those settings that seems terrifically appealing because the author has made it so, though in reality I doubt I would really enjoy living in Kurravaara, a village outside Kiruna so far north that in the winter the sun barely shows its face and in April, when this story takes place, the sun rises before 4 a.m. Rebecka Martinsson, who is now working as a prosecutor, seems happy, settled in the home that she left in her late teens after a difficult set of circumstances, described in the first book in the series, Sun Storm (apa The Savage Altar). She spent lonely years in Stockholm as a student, then as a obsessively hardworking tax lawyer, only called home to the north when a friend was in trouble. Things haven’t been easy for her, and events in previous books were traumatic, but as Until Thy Wrath Be Past opens, Rebecka seems grounded and fulfilled.

Snow, thought district prosecutor Rebecka Martinsson, shivering with pleasure as she got out of her car at the house in Kurravaara.

It was seven in the evening. Snow clouds enveloped the village in a pleasant, dusky haze. Martinsson could barely make out the lights from the neighboring houses. And the snow was not just falling. Oh no, it was hurtling down. Cold, dry, fluffy flakes cascaded from the sky, as if someone up there were sweeping them down, doing the housework.

My farmor, my father’s mother, of course, Martinsson thought with a trace of a smile. She must always be on the go, scrubbing the good Lord’s floor, dusting, hard at work. I expect she’s sent Him out to stand on the porch.

Her farmor’s house, faced with gray, cement-fiber Eternit siding seemed to be hiding itself in the gloom. It appeared to have taken the opportunity to have a nap. Only the outside light above the green-painted steps whispered quietly: Welcome home, my girl.

She is soon presented with what seems an unfortunate tragedy: the body of a long-missing girl is found in a river. She and her boyfriend went diving months ago, and now that her body has  been discovered, authorities conclude they died in an accident. But readers know they were murdered, that while diving in an ice-bound lake someone deliberately blocked the hole they had cut in the ice. We learn in the opening pages exactly what happened from point of view of the girl, who remains in the story, observing and commenting on the action. Though I am not fond of supernatural elements in mysteries, Larsson pulls it off in large part because the dead girl is a vividly-realized character in her own right, a maverick child of a neglectful mother who came to live with her great-grandmother, who delights in the company of this irreverent, rebellious child. The passages that give us her point of view after death give the reader a strong sense of a willful, daring young woman who won’t rest until her story is told.

Rebecka, inspired by a dream, suggests that the water in the dead girl’s lungs be tested, and so they discover that the girl drowned in a lake, where in the late years of World War II a Nazi supply plane went down. Someone, it seems, wants to be sure the wreck is never found. She and Inspector Anne-Marie Mella, who has become estranged from her closest colleagues following a decision she made in The Black Path, begin to investigate. In some ways, this isn’t much of a mystery; we have a strong inkling of who in the small village is likely responsible and we see some of the story from the point of view of a participant or witness to the murder. And yet, Larsson has created a compelling story as we peel back the historical layers and the tainted relationships behind the deliberate drowning of two young people.

I loved the first book in the series, and admired The Black Path (though I found the ending in both books to be out of scale with the rest, a bit too over-the-top). In this latest volume in the series, Larsson really hits her stride. She has given us a cast of characters we have come to know and care about, a setting that is vivid, a ghostly young woman who has a grounded, earthy reality, and a compelling story that explores Sweden’s troubling relationship with Nazi Germany. She offers a terrific combination of psychologically probing character development, action, and (for lack of a better word) a kind of poetry in her writing style that makes this series a particularly fine contribution to the genre. Highly recommended.

By the way, Maxine also includes Asa Larsson as she takes the SinC25 expert challenge – and links to her reviews of all the books in the series.

Three more women authors who seem somehow similar to Asa Larsson:

  • Karin Alvtegen – who has a similar interest in the underlying psychology driving characters.
  • Karin Fossum – who also examines the many layers of complexity in seemingly innocent small communities.
  • Laura Lippman – who explores the long-term consequences of troubled relationships and childhood insults.

One Response to SinC25, #7: Asa Larsson

  1. kathy d. says:

    I am currently reading this book, Asa Larsson’s fourth. The writing is so good I’m savoring in the way I’d have a fine dessert, a bit at a time, although I can’t wait to pick it up when life calls me to a task.
    The first two books had endings which nearly left me with PTSD, as you notice above. First one awful ending, then another which nearly destroyed the protagonist. The third one, with its global, destructive denouement was too far over the top. I wondered what would happen next.
    Well, now, I’m more than content with this book. I like the language, the descriptions of the countryside, the two protagonists and a few Kiruna characters, as well as the dogs. Even the supernatural element, which normally turns me off to even picking up a book, does not bother me here at all. It’s well-done.
    This will be one book I will be sad to finish, not wanting to leave the characters of Kiruna, but I’ll eagerly await the next one.

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