07 August 2007

Swedish mystery

Here's a continuation of the theme Dan Conrad and I discussed earlier: mystery novels from Scandanavia. This one's from Sweden and I found it in River City Books here in Northfield while I was shopping for birthday gifts for 2-year-old granddaughter Jaime. (I know, the mystery shelves are strange places to be looking for books for toddlers. Is there a rule against shopping for more than one thing at a time?)

This time the book is Sun Storm by Åsa Larsson [at left] who is a native of Kiruna, Sweden, an iron-mining town so far north in Sweden that Norway and Finland are probably visible from the highest nearby mountain (which is also the highest in Sweden). It's so far north that there's an astrophysics lab there that studies Martian climate. It's so far north that the aurora borealis is visible from the 1:00 PM sunset until the 10:00 AM sunrise.

All of that is to prepare you for the setting of Sun Storm. It's set in a mining town in the very northernmost part of Sweden called Kiruna. This place is so far north that Larsson's description of winter there makes Minnesota winter sound like warm vacation spot. On top of that the houses she describes don't seem to have central heating. And the cabin in the mountains -- the scene of a crucial event -- relies on snow drifts outside to seal the drafts.

Rebecka Martinsson, Stockholm tax attorney and Kiruna native (like author Larsson), gets drawn back to that northern town by the murder of a friend from her youth and the dead man's sister who is accused of the killing (unlike author Larsson). But there's more. The dead man was a central figure in the creation of a large Pentacostal church in that town of 20,000 on the glacier-swept landscape. It's a church that's grown wealthy from evangelism and the sales of books and videos of sermons. The killing and Martinsson's defense of her old friend threatens the church and the wealth of its movers and shakers.

There are powerful images here. Larsson is very good at descriptive writing. There's a complicated story and it's well told. Throughout the book I was sure I understood most of what was going on, but I had these nagging questions. Larsson answers most of them with dramatic flashbacks and conversations between old friends and acquaintances.

The ending is dramatic and suspensful. Larsson does action endings well too.

Oh, by the way, neither Martinsson nor her old chum are terribly attractive people. My favorite character in the book is not Martinsson, but a local detective, Anna-Maria Mella.

There are a couple things that don't fall together at the end, but they are not essential to this tale. I enjoyed reading this book. Larsson has a second book that's just been released in the US. I'm going to have to pester the library about loaning it to me.

I thought this was a good one. If you read it, let us know what you think.

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