SinC25: Asa Larsson, #4 post of expert challenge

Having completed the Sisters in Crime book bloggers’ moderate challenge, I am now embarking on the expert level:

write ten blog posts about works of crime fiction by women authors. For each, mention three similar women authors whose works you would recommend.

Asa Larsson is my fourth choice in the expert challenge. I read a review of her first novel, Sun Storm, at Sarah Weinman’s now-retired blog, and was entranced when I read the US edition soon afterwards (the UK edition was not published until later), in a wonderful translation by Marlaine Delargy. The character of Rebecka Martnisson was the first aspect of the book that made an impression on me. She’s a financial lawyer in Uppsala, but grew up in the far north of Sweden, near Kiruna. She returns there when an old childhood friend is accused of murder. As the story progressed, I was won over by the atmosphere and location of the novel, as well as by its sympathetic descriptions of the old people still living in this remote region and Rebecka’s identity with them (in particular her dead grandmother and the old neighbour Sivving). There is a religious-mystical element to the novel, but this is not at the cost of a down-to-earth denoument. The author herself wrote to her potential readers about the book thus:

I hope you’ll like it. That you’ll like the biting cold of midwinter, the austerity of the people, the dogs that are so important in all my books. I hope you’ll like my police officers: pregnant Anna-Maria with her horse-face, her idle husband whom she loves in spite of everything, and all her children; her colleague Sven-Erik Stålnacke, a man of few words, with his moustache which resembles a squirrel that’s been run over. And I really hope you’ll like my main character, Rebecka Martinsson. I know she’s a little bit isolated from other people and a little bit difficult. The kind of person who works herself to death instead of asking herself how she’s feeling. But she does have her own story, a story she’s running away from.

Asa Larsson’s next two novels, The Blood Spilt and The Black Path, were translated into English, and continued the story of Rebecka’s conflicts between old and new, city and country life, the real world and the “spirit” world. These stories were wonderful, but sadly the rest of the series was not translated and some time elapsed before a new publisher took on the books. The fourth, Until Thy Wrath Be Past, was published in the UK this year in a translation by Laurie Thompson, and continues the themes of the earlier novels. There is one more novel in the series so far written but not translated; according to Larsson’s prologue to The Black Path, her intention is for the series to consist of seven novels.

I hope that anyone who has not yet read this author will try her books: they are listed below, with links to my reviews.

Sun Storm (UK title: The Savage Altar)

The Blood Spilt

The Black Path

Until Thy Wrath be Past

Three authors who write in a similar vein to Asa Larsson – this is quite a hard one. The author whose books I think are quite similar is Johan Theorin, with his stories of the old island legends and ageing populations, but he isn’t a woman author! So I shall choose:

Stef Penney, whose novels The Tenderness of Wolves and The Invisible Ones share themes of old mysteries, and of protagonists who are outside the society in which they live, and are conflicted about this. The two authors have a rather similar approach to wolves, in Penny’s first novel and in Larsson’s The Savage Altar, in which the life of a wild wolf is entangled with Rebecka’s fate. But the lupine aspect is not the only similarity that these authors share!

Camilla Ceder is another Swedish author who so far has had one novel, Frozen Moment, translated into English. It shares with Asa Larsson a sense of people struggling in a remote community while the rest of the world is fixated on city dwelling and its associated “benefits”. There’s a police procedural element, in common with Larsson, and a tragic past back-story involving some of the themes addressed in Sun Storm. There isn’t an explicit religious or mystical aspect to the plot, however, although there is a great sense of location.

Kersten Ekman is more of a literary than a crime writer, and I’ve only read one of her books, Blackwater. This novel is longer and more convoluted than Asa Larsson’s books, but shares many of the same elements: remote communtity; tensions between rural and city life; value-systems of the old and the young; superstitions; and a sense of threat if any old secrets should be in danger of being revealed.

My previous posts in the SinC25 challenge.

The Sisters in Crime 25th anniversary challenge.

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16 thoughts on “SinC25: Asa Larsson, #4 post of expert challenge

  1. I have read the first book in the series, Maxine and have The Blood Spilt in my TBR pile. Problem, I heard, the two books have a pretty much similar structure with too much emphasis on religious matters. I would like to know your opinion in this sense. Eventually would you think a good idea to read Until Thy Wrath be Past out of order?

    • I think it would be best to read them in order, Jose igacio. Although The Blood Spilt has a religious theme, it is a very different one from the first book. The first book was about a religious sect; the second is about the death of a woman pastor and the effects of her morality and personality on the inhabitants of the village. From my memory, it isn’t “religious” in theme, though one becomes aware of the large amount of money the Swedish church owns and invests. I think the books are best read in order because of the way Rebecka’s character develops, as well as the dynamics of the police team – Anna Mella and her deputy. I don’t think it matters that much, though, you can still enjoy the new one without having read the previous three.

  2. Thanks for reminding me about this challenge. I have one to write up for the moderate level. I love Asa Larsson and look forward to her books when they come out. I haven’t tried either Camilla Ceder or Kersten Eckman but if they’re comparable to Larsson maybe I should give them a go.

    • I found Kersten Ekman’s Blackwater a bit hard going, Sarah, but I found out later that she’d written previous books about the region (I think not crime novels?) that have not been translated – apparently it helps to keep some of the characters straight if you’ve read some of those. Ceder is a new novelist and I very much enjoyed her debut.

  3. Maxine, I am just working on a post about Asa Larsson for my challenge. I recently read Until Thy Wrath Be Past and realized she would have to be among my women writers. I really liked the book – it had everything I like about the series and left out things that didn’t work so well for me – primarily the big denouements that seem out of scale with rest of the story. And the setting is really well done in this one.

    Jose Ignacio, I am not a person who reads in order unless it just happens that way. I would say the only thing you would miss reading Until Thy Wrath before the others is the development of relationships among the recurring characters. Events that happen at the end of The Black Path drive a wedge between members of the police force, and that problem has consequences in this book – but it’s not essential to know exactly why people fell out.

  4. I can see I´ll have to try Stef Penney at some point.

    A good idea to compare Ceder, Larsson and Ekmann as they are all three great. Åsa Larsson´s books are darker than the others, and Ekmann is my personal favourite, but I know that is because I have also read and loved her wonderful trilogy which is not crime fiction.

  5. Sunday morning the New York Times will publish their annual lists of best books of 2011 per their editors and top reviewers. Here are links to some of these great lists:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/22/books/review/100-notable-books-of-2011.html?ref=books

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/25/books/janet-maslins-recommendations.html

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/25/books/michiko-kakutanis-recommendations-for-2011.html

    Enjoy, hope this points some of you top an enjoyable read……

    Ken in McLean, Va., USA

  6. I like Asa Larsson’s books, but had to recover from the very brutal endings of the first two books, and the overblown global denouement in the third, which I thought was a bit much. Am glad the fourth book is not quite like that. I’m reading it now.
    I liked Penney’s first book, especially the sense of place, have not yet read Ceder’s, though it’s on my TBR list. I tried Ekman but couldn’t get past the first 40 pages. It was tough going and I couldn’t “bond” to the book.
    I was wondering if her books are like Yrsa Siggurdattor’s, however, the Icelandic author doesn’t have spirituality in her books, and seems quite scientific. Also, her attorney is quite grounded, with her family, friends and job. So I won’t make the comparison. Both of them create a good sense of place, so I’ve frozen while reading both of their books.

    • Thanks, Kathy, interesting points. I think that the new Asa Larsson is more “grounded”, having its main mystery connected to the WW2 past, and also dog-loving is a strong theme.
      I found Blackwater hard to “bond with” too- the basic crime plot was unbearably sad as she made you care so much about the woman who was killed, but much of the stories about the young “hitchiker” woman going to that sect-y place, and the local family with the awful father were hard to relate to without having read the other books by her set in the region as Dorte points out.
      Good point about Yrsa S – Thora and Rebecka are both lawyers but I think the two authors probably have more dissimilarities than similarities. For example their treatment of ethnic minorites (The Black Path – Sami- and The Day is Dark- inuit- are very different), & Yrsa is much more down to earth.

  7. Yes, I did mention that Yrsa’s attorney is quite grounded. Now that I say all this and am progressing in Asa’s fourth book, I am enjoying it a lot. The writing is excellent, as is the sense of place, and characters. And as someone who dislikes ghosts in books, I don’t mind that here, at this point anyway.

  8. I’ve read all of Asa Larsson’s books and just finished Until They Wrath Be Past. I came across what I think is her fifth book in the planned series of 6 – Till Offer at Molok – which translates in google as To the Sacrifice at Molk (?) The book description begins with her investigating the death of someone whose thumb has been found in the stomach of a bear. It’s being published by Albert Bonnier Publishing in Sweden in April. I hate having to wait for the translation in English as I’m really curious to see what happens in Rebecka’ life, including a possible relationship with Krister Ericksson. I enjoyed this fourth book very much but found it shared much less about Rebecka’s character.

    • Thanks for this comment and the news about the new book. It certainly has been a long wait for English language readers for book 4, especially with the switch of publishers. I hope we won’t have to wait as long for the one you have found. I agree that Rebecka is quite a curiosity-inducing character.

  9. Pingback: Review: Until Thy Wrath Be Past by Asa Larsson | The Game's Afoot

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