Review: Åsa Larsson – The Black Path

The Black Path by Åsa Larsson was published by Maclehose Press last week. The books have been published in the UK slightly out of order and this is the predecessor of the excellent Until Thy Wrath be Past which is on the shortlist for the 2012 International Dagger.

In The Black Path, Rebecka Martinsson is recovering from a psychotic episode brought about by the violent events that concluded the previous book The Blood Spilt. It is one of the greatest strengths of Larsson’s writing that the protagonists never spring back from the traumas they experience but remain marked by events into future narratives. After eighteen months of treatment, Rebecka retreats to her cottage in Kurravaara, a village near Kiruna, Sweden’s northernmost city. Kiruna is a mining community in the heart of the Sami region, an area covering the northern parts of Norway, Sweden and Finland where the local Sami dialect is also spoken.

Despite her breakdown, Rebecka is asked to become a special prosecutor in Kiruna for a six month trial period. Rebecka accepts but her tendency to overwork both herself and her staff make her enemies within the office. However, detective Anna-Maria Mella comes to appreciate Rebecka’s dedication and attention to detail when a woman is found murdered in a fishing ark on a frozen lake. The victim, who has been stabbed and then electrocuted is identified as Inna Wattrang, an employee of Kallis Mining, one of the top mining companies in Sweden and headed by the self-made Mauri Kallis.

Although the investigations of Rebecka and Anna-Maria take up significant portion of the book, the background story of Mauri Kallis and his relationship with Inna Wattrang and her brother Diddi, form an interweaving narrative. Some of the story is moving, especially in relation to Ester the half-sister of Mauri Kellis who although adopted at birth, is integrated back into the family at great personal cost. I’m not sure that we needed quite so much back story as I felt this sometimes affected the pace of the book, although it did give a useful insight into how self-made men have to make significant compromises in the pursuit of success.

In the course of the investigation, it becomes clear that corruption and bribery are a feature of mining companies’ attempts to acquire contracts in countries with unstable political regimes. This was highlighted well with the trip Mauri and Inna make to Uganda and the resulting links that are then made with military regimes. The story of the investigation into Inna’s murder linked in well with the mining background although I found the denouement slightly disappointing as the scale violence seemed out of proportion to the rest of the narrative.

The book filled in some of the gaps that I had picked up when reading Until Thy Wrath be Past. It’s a shame that this series was published in the UK out of order but at least the books by this interesting writer can now be read in sequence.

The book has been reviewed at Yet Another Crime Fiction BlogEurocrime and at International Noir Fiction.