January is always a productive time for crime fiction. Along with new publications, we also get advance review copies of novels not hitting the bookshop shelves until spring and sometimes the summer. I reviewed a mixture of these, from Peter May’s recently published Entry Island to Louise Welsh’s A Lovely Way to Burn which is out in March. I also caught up on some of my reading for the The Petrona Award for translated Scandinavian crime fiction. Of everything I read, it was Welsh’s book that made the strongest impression. I’m a fan of apocalyptic fiction anyway but the quality of Welsh’s writing made this a compelling read.
The six books I reviewed for Crimepieces were:
1. The Second Deadly Sin by Asa Larsson
2. A Lovely Way to Burn by Louise Welsh
3. The Disappeared by Kristina Ohlsson
4. Cockroaches by Jo Nesbo
5. Entry Island by Peter May
6. Strange Shores by Arnaldur Indridason
Asa Larsson’s books encapsulate everything that is great about Scandinavian crime fiction: they have a strong sense of place combined with well-developed plots and interesting characters. That said, I’ve found the series featuring lawyer Rebecka Martinsson to be slightly patchy, not helped by the fact that the books have been translated out-of-order. The last novel to be published in the UK, The Black Path, was disappointing, principally because we lost that sense of a close knit community tying to protect itself from evil within. This is, thankfully, back in The Second Deadly Sin although, once again, I found the slightly over-the-top ending marred what was an interesting narrative.
In northern Sweden, hunters gather to shoot a wounded bear circling its community. Inside its stomach they find the remains of a human hand. In nearby Kiruna, a woman is found murdered in her bed with the word ‘whore’ daubed above her. Her grandson, Marcus, is traumatised by events and no-one is prepared to take on the responsibility of looking after him. Rebecka is assigned as prosecutor to the case, which is hampered by the refusal of the insular community to give up its secrets. But the key to the investigation is a crime that took place decades earlier.
The split narrative was one the most interesting aspects of this book. Both the modern-day murder investigation and the early twentieth doomed romance were depicted equally well. I became quite enamoured of the story of the young school teacher who falls in love with the local mine owner, despite it being clear from the beginning that it would end badly. The present day investigation worked best when Larsson was teasing out the complexities of relationships fraught with past disappointments. The actual resolution was less satisfying but that could have been because of the sheer pointlessness of it all.
I was looking forward to reading this book and overall enjoyed being taken back into the closed community of northern Sweden. It’s still a ‘must read’ series for me and the novel’s ending hints at new directions for Rebecka which should shake up future books a little.
Thanks to MacLehose Press for my copy. The translation is by Laurie Thompson