Monday, October 06, 2014

Swedish Crime Fiction: THE SECOND DEADLY SIN, Fifth from Åsa Larsson

Åsa Larsson's crime novels repeatedly win major prizes in Sweden; at last the five titles in her Rebecka Martinsson series are all available in English, with this year's release of THE SECOND DEADLY SIN. And this is one of the rare series in which it's really way, way better to start with the first book -- the four earlier titles are The Savage Altar, The Blood Spilt, The Black Path, and Until Thy Wrath Be Past. Reading them in sequence conveys the painful, steady, and yes, heroic path Rebecka Martinsson has taken from posh urban tax attorney to, as we reconnect in THE SECOND SIN, a rural district prosecutor in northern Sweden, where the country's most "backward" and land-loving families live like American "mountain" folk: trusting only each other, and alternately embracing the challenging winter and struggling to survive it.

Rebecka Martinsson's choices in the earlier titles have made her a controversial attorney, one whose hands are stained with blood -- justly or not, well, you'll have to read the others. Let's just say that she's unevenly accepted in her new role up north. A wealthy attorney from the city still comes to see her when she lets him, as her lover, but the relationship makes less sense by the month, as Martinsson's loyalties to her new community intensify.

When multiple "accidental" deaths in a family nearby accrue, Martinsson knows there can't be coincidence at play -- it's malice, wickedness, but what is the motive under the killings of such an impoverished and powerless family? When she and a local cadaver dog wrangler find themselves repeatedly saving the life of a boy who's one of the last to survive from that family, Martinsson decides to root out the criminal force behind the killings. To do it, she'll have to disobey her boss, take a leave of absence, put her job and her new sense of self at risk.

Those who've read others in the series will rejoice to find Police Inspector Ann-Maria Mella, local force for justice in spite of a misogynistic career choice and a family of her own, coming to Martinsson's assistance. The teamwork of the two determined women keeps the investigation in progress. Which is a lifesaving component when you're up against someone like the stunningly lovely but mysterious Maja Larsson, who has reasons of her own for misleading the investigation as the team tries to track down who has killed the boy Marcus's grandmother -- and why:
Larsson stared hard at Martinsson. Like a fox standing motionless in the trees at the edge of the forest, trying to decide if the approaching stranger is friend or foe. In the end she responded. Her voice was low and soft. The silver snakes were wriggling on top of her head.

"I know who you are; you're Rebecka Martinsson. Mikkio's and Virpi's daughter. You've moved back here. I didn't know what you look like nowadays -- I only met you once when you were a little girl. Well, Rebecka, you know what it's like here in the village."

"No, I don't."

"Perhaps you don't. ... People in this village are a lot of bastards but they wouldn't murder her. If I spill the beans and you then go around asking questions, they'll know I've snitched on them. And I'll have stones thrown through my windows."
But it's Rebecka Martinsson who seems likely to become, yet again, a target of the "stone throwers" as she presses against the village's darkest secrets, all to protect a child -- and a dog.

This is not "noir" writing -- it's well-paced traditional crime fiction with a very unusual investigator and dangerous circumstances. Martinsson is one of the best legal sleuths to come along, and I hope the author keeps the series going for years to come.

Meanwhile, considering the pace of translation, I'm willing to return to the first of the series and read all five of them again. (Yes, they are really are THAT good.)

PS -- Can't recall what the second deadly sin was supposed to be? Go ahead, look it up. It's worth remembering it again.

No comments: