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Sun Storm Hardcover – April 25, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
At the start of Larsson's solid procedural debut, neurotic, troubled Sanna Strandgård discovers the brutally butchered body of her brother, Viktor, on the floor of the church he founded in Kiruna, a provincial town in the north of Sweden. Sanna turns to her childhood friend, Rebecka Martinsson, a tax attorney in Stockholm, for emotional support and legal assistance when Sanna is charged with her brother's murder. While the local police investigate, led by refreshingly down-to-earth Insp. Anna-Maria Mella, Martinsson starts digging into the case as well as her own past connection with the victim and his church. Potential motives for Strandgård's murder range from the church's business dealings to sexual intrigue, but the focus is on Martinsson's anger and frustration at being sucked back into her own past. The story builds to a thrillerlike ending, though Larsson introduces far more characters than she needs or can handle. The book won Sweden's Best First Crime Novel award. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
The Swedish invasion continues with this sure-handed thriller from a talented first novelist. Rebecca Martinsson, an overworked junior member in a Stockholm law firm, comes from remote Kiruna in Sweden's far north, where she was involved with a fundamentalist church called The Strength of All Our Strength. Now a charismatic church leader has been brutally murdered. After receiving a call from the victim's sister, Sanna, Rebecca immediately returns to Kiruna and the craziness she thought she had escaped. It's a lot crazier now, she soon discovers, as Sanna is arrested for the murder, and Rebecca finds herself saddled with trying to prove her innocence and take care of her two young girls. Larsson builds suspense gradually but inexorably, and she is equally good at creating mood, using the frozen landscape and isolated location to evoke the icy inner lives of the church members and the building need for release. More like Ruth Rendell's psychological thrillers than the procedurals of Larsson's fellow Swedes (Mankell and Thursten, for example), this impressive debut nevertheless heralds yet another striking voice from Scandinavia. Bill Ott
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Rebecka Martinsson, an attorney practicing in Stockholm, receives a call from an old friend named Sanna, the victim's sister. We get the idea that something has distanced Rebecka from Sanna but, nevertheless, Rebecka travels to Kiruna to offer Sanna some help - both emotional and legal.
In Kiruna, where Rebecka has history, she is not welcomed. The three pastors of the church where the murder occurred are distant and unwelcoming to both Rebecka and the police who are investigating the crime. The police are puzzled. According to everyone they talk to, the victim was beloved and had no enemies. Yet, the manner of his murder is personal and someone hated him enough to mutilate his body.
Rebecka is drawn towards helping Sanna but she also remembers vividly the problems she had when she lived in Kiruna. The atmosphere in Kiruna is dark and secretive and Rebecka must set boundaries in order to keep herself physically and emotionally safe.
I enjoyed the page-turning aspect of this novel and the exciting action. However, there was something to be desired in the denouement. It seemed to be over-kill (no pun intended). I love the atmospheric darkness of the cold and often barren Swedish landscape. Living in the sub-arctic of Alaska myself, I can identify with the Swedish winters and the cold. Asa Larson captures the ambiance of the arctic winter and one can almost imagine a frigid air arising from the pages.
This is a dark book but it's enlivened by Rebecka's can-do, no-nonsense attitude. She has to deal with the passive and rather useless sister and is soon pressed into looking after her two neglected children. At first, one is not quite sure who the protagonist is because there is also a heavily-pregnant police officer who might be the heroine -- but who fades somewhat as the book proceeds with Rebecka taking the lead. I must say, having lived in Sweden which is one of the most secular countries in the world, I was surprised to find a revivalist movement, which might have been at home in the US Bible Belt, setting up shop in Lapland with folks speaking in tongues. They were only missing snake handling. But whatever, this is a novel.
To be brief, this is a very workmanlike and professional job enlivened by the unusual setting which brought it vividly to life as well as the very appealing protagonist. The villains are not as realistic or convincing but this does not detract from one's enjoyment of the story -- although it is a weakness that prevents the novel from achieving the highest standard.
Rebecka is drawn into the middle of a murder investigation by her friend Sanna Strangård, the sister of the victim of a brutal murder. Sanna is what this reader would call "a piece of work". She is unable to maintain a positive connection with other adults, or even her two girls. In her own woundedness, her personality has developed in an extremely self-centered, unreliable, often paradoxical, and unpredictable way. She uses her supposed ineptness in life to manipulate others and perpetuate a curious emotional dependence—even with Rebecka, a friend who she betrayed, or with her parents, whom she cannot ever really trust.
The solution to the murder investigation lies in the quick, intuitive, work of Inspector Anna-Maria Mella and her partner Sven-Erik Stålnacke. In the end, Rebecka is still finding her way to a place of reasonable trust. She still carries a fragile darkness.
This is an intense, disturbing, story. It is a crime thriller even though the main character is Rebecka, a tax law attorney. Anna-Maria is one tough police person, and very likeable. She and Sven-Erik are good people to have on your side. I find myself hoping for more of them in the future. These characters are developed in a way that reveals strengths and weaknesses, and varying levels of self-awareness. They are accurate examples of various levels of neuroticism, and/or, psychoses.
The winter, above the Arctic Circle, is a demanding presence throughout this novel. It is a rural life, even with the city of Kiruna. It is an adventure into a physical place that has only been tasted in a small way by some Americans. I found the spelling of Swedish names to be their own challenge, especially when writing a review. Åsa Larsson is a strong, gifted, author who has drawn from a deep and broad field of knowledge. In an undaunted fashion, she has created challenging characters within a challenging story that includes issues few could handle with an appropriate level of compassion and confrontation. A very worthy read.