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)
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.