Larsson, Asa - 'The Black Path' (translated by Marlaine Delargy)
THE BLACK PATH is the third book in Asa Larsson's series featuring Rebecka Martinsson set in and around Kiruna in Northern Sweden. At the beginning of this book, Rebecka is slowly recovering from a nervous breakdown and hospitalisation following the dramatic events of the previous book in the series. Due to her illness she has resigned from her demanding job as a commercial solicitor in Stockholm to move back to her grandmother's house in Kiruna. Eventually she is offered work in the local prosecutors' office. With little in her personal life to distract other than her elderly neighbour and his dog, she becomes a workaholic.
When the body of Inna Wattrang is found in an ark, a fishing hut near Kiruna, Rebecka becomes involved in the investigation, working with Mella and Stalnacke, the police officers who witnessed her mental disintegration. Inna Wattrang was the press officer for Kallis Mining, a multinational company whose owner, Kallis was originally a local boy, and has a holiday home near the fishing huts. Rebecka's financial sector background becomes useful to the local police, as she looks into a potential link between the company's affairs and the murder.
Meanwhile we see events from the points of view of several characters, including Kallis, the company owner; Diddi Wattrang, Inna's brother; Inna herself prior to her death, and Kallis' wife and sister. The sections move both forwards and backwards in time, looking at Kallis' childhood and the recent past, as well as reactions to Inna's murder. As we get to know the characters, we realise that there is a darker side to Kallis' rags to riches story. Kallis is a deeply troubled man, emotionally stunted by his traumatic childhood, and not above some very murky international dealings to further his commercial interests in his overseas mines. Both Inna and Diddi are spoilt and decadent. Diddi is an addict, who will do almost anything for money, and Inna is charming but manipulative and promiscuous. The most likeable character in the Kallis sphere is Ester, Kallis' half sister who was brought up by a Sami foster family, and was close to her artistic and supernaturally gifted foster mother. Ester shares these artistic and psychic talents, and is taken in by Kallis after her foster mother's death.
Rebecka Martinsson remains an engaging, interesting character, and the gradual revelations of the difficulties of her early life with an affectionate but alcoholic father and strained relationship with her mother increase the reader's sympathy and understanding of her. Relations between Rebecka and the Kiruna police, in particular officer Mella are nicely developed with both finding an appreciation of the other's professional talents.
THE BLACK PATH is a compelling read, as well written and plotted as earlier instalments in the series. This book reminds me of Ruth Rendell's psychological thrillers, due to its focus on the dysfunctional relationships between family and friends that can lead up to acts of violence, with the puzzle element and mechanics of the detection process taking a back seat. Asa Larsson provides an impressive distinctive twist on the legal/police procedural genre in this series, with a very strong sense of location and characterisation, and a realistic grasp on the politics of professional life and home/life balance. Overall this series is really amongst the cream of recently translated Scandinavian crime fiction.
Laura Root, England