The mysteries of 2015; top choices: contemporary, Part One

December 24, 2015 at 2:53 pm (Best of 2015, Book clubs, Book review, books, Mystery fiction)

1041635  I’ll begin with Until Thy Wrath Be Past by Asa Larsson. Wrath was the final selection discussed by the Usual Suspects in this, our international year. Having done plenty of substantive research, my friend Marge led a stimulating discussion of this complex, haunting work. Wrath was voted the “best read” of the year by the Suspects.

When an attractive young couple goes missing, the hunt is on. Although the whereabouts of Simon Kyro and Wilma Persson is a mystery, it’s suspected that they are drowning victims. When the body of Wilma is discovered, the investigation is kicked into high gear. Strangely, we have already encountered Wilma in another dimension, as it were (or, as I like to think, Rod Serling of blessed memory would have phrased it).

Key roles in this story are played by members of the Krekula family: parents Isak and Kerttu and their  sons Hjalmar and Tore. Kerttu and Isak in particular are fighting to hold on to secrets that date back to the years of World War Two. Should the truth of their activities  at  that time come to light, they would at the very least be vilified, possibly even prosecuted.

The lead characters on the side of law enforcement are Rebecka Martinsson, a lawyer, and Detective Anna-Maria Mella. Both are complex and interesting women. At one point, Anna-Maria travels alone to the Krekula house in the hopes of gathering some useful information. Instead, Tore and Hjalmar play several dirty tricks on her, one involving the safety of her daughter. This astonishing scenario is unlike anything I’ve ever encountered in a police procedural.  Those Krekulas, brutal and fearless and utterly repugnant, are a piece of work!

I did have a few issues with this novel. For one thing, the narrative is punctuated by flashbacks that on occasion I found confusing. Also I became impatient with the lengthy passages in italics. The book may have been longer than it needed to be. But these are minor cavils.

I especially liked the way in which  Asa Larsson evokes the atmosphere of rural Sweden – particularly of Kiruna, the country’s northernmost town:

This region, one of Western Europe’s last wildernesses, represents for Swedes what Glenn Gould, in a Canadian context, called “The Idea of North.” Though Kiruna itself is a modern town, with an economy based on iron-ore mining and tourism, its population is small—22,972 in the 2012 census—and the mountains and forests, bordering on Norway to the West and North and Finland to the East, are sparsely populated. In Steven Peacock’s words, north of Kiruna, “there is only roadless, uninhabited land. To the East, boreal forests stretch for hundreds of miles into Finland and Russia” (125). In Until Thy Wrath Be Past, Larsson fully exploits not only the isolation and harsh winters of this region, but its liminality, in a literal and metaphoric sense.

….animals in the novel—reindeer, elk, fox, and above all bear, dogs, and ravens—are important to atmosphere, plot, character development, and symbolism and interact with the human characters.

(The above passage is from an article entitled “Till My Change Come: Nature, Justice, and Redemption in Asa Larsson’s Until Thy Wrath Be Past.” It appears in a journal called Scandinavian-Canadian Studies. This is an excellent source that you might like to check out; it has other articles on Scandinavian crime fiction. They appear to be erudite yet at the same time quite readable.)

Asa Larsson’s writing is wonderful (and so, by implication is the translation, done by Laurie Thompson.) In the midst of all the turmoil, the tenderer human feelings are not ignored. Here she recounts an exchange between Rebecka and Krister Eriksson, a grievously injured man with a heart of gold:

“Hi,” he says before she has a chance to say anything.
It is such a tender-sounding “hi.” It sounds happy over the fact that she has called him, and ever so intimate. It sounds like a “hi” the second before a man slides his hand under his lover’s hair and around the back of her head.

Are  they falling in love? Could be. Krister is the police department’s canine handler; through him, we get to know some noble, courageous, and lovable dogs.

Until The Wrath Be Past, which came out here in 2011, is the fourth novel featuring Rebecka Martinsson. The Second Deadly Sin, the fifth and final novel in the series, came out last year.

Highly, highly recommended.

Asa Larsson

Asa Larsson

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