Wednesday, January 28, 2009

THE OTHER LARSSON CRIME WRITER: THE BLACK PATH BY ASA LARSSON



Kiruna, 1100km north of Uppsala, in the frozen north of Sweden. 
Leif Pudas is fishing through a hole in the ice from his mobile ark and goes outside without a coat to relieve himself. The moorings on his ark come loose and it blows away in the storm. He has only a few minutes to live in the extreme cold, but luckily he stumbles across his snowmobile with a tool box in the seat. He is able to break the window of a nearby ark and climb through into the interior, where he finds a woman's body.
The woman has signs of having been tortured before her  murder and Inspector Anna-Maria Mella with her colleague Sven-Erik  Stalnacke begin an investigation. 

When the woman is identified is identified as Inna Wattrang, an executive of Kallis Mining, Anna-Maria asks lawyer Rebecka Martinsson to look into the financial background of the company. Rebecka has only recently recovered from her 'breakdown' caused by the traumatic events related in The Blood Spilt, the previous book in the series. 
The separate financial and criminal investigations merge as Rebecka delves deeply into the financial life of Mauri Kallis the boss of Kallis Mining, and when a local suicide turns out to be another murder the story moves to the exciting climax. 

Asa Larsson's The Black Path is the third in a planned six book series featuring two disparate investigators workaholic tax lawyer Rebecka Martinsson, and mother of four police Inspector Anna-Maria Mella.
The previous books in the series The Savage Altar [Sun Storm in the USA] and The Blood Spilt were respectively named Sweden's Best First Crime Novel in 2003, and Best Swedish Crime Novel of 2004. The Black Path has been nominated for a Hawaii Five-O police procedural award at the Left Coast Crime Festival 2009.

This along with the nomination of Karin Alvtegen for an Edgar shows that Scandinavian crime fiction is getting some well deserved recognition in the USA.

I really enjoyed The Black Path but had a few minor reservations which were probably more related to my wandering concentration levels than any failures by the author. This dark mysterious novel covers so many of the main themes of modern crime fiction that at times I felt a bit overwhelmed. 
Mauri Kallis is a walking success story, who as a child was put in care, but has become a very rich man with business interests all over the world and a private estate where his various relatives live like feudal vassals. The 'American Dream' but in Sweden.
The murder victim Inna Wattrang is charismatic, beautiful, sexually promiscuous with rich older men, and has a 'strange' relationship with her weak brother Diddi. Diddi and Inna are the beautiful acceptable face of Kallis Mining, a face that hides the company's amoral exploitation of Africa's mineral resources and other illegalities.
 
Mauri Kallis has a 16 year old half sister Ester, the offspring of his mother and an Indian fellow inmate of the psychiatric ward, who is an artist and was brought up in a Sami family. Ester has unusual abilities but only her artistic talent is noticed and because of her age and exotic Indian and Sami background she is ripe for exploitation by trendy gallery owners.

Asa Larsson gives us a lot of the back story for these characters and others explaining some of the psychological background for their present state of mind. She gives us multiple points of view and multiple narrative threads and she does it very well. But at times I found myself wanting the investigation to move forward with more of Anna-Maria and Sven-Erik, and less of Rebecka's numerous problems, and Diddi's pathetic behaviour. 
This might be just be my impatience because this is a very good book with a very strong message about the brutality of modern global business and the exploitation of the weak. 

"....but I pulled myself together and started to speak Finnish instead, and then she thawed out."
Airi Bylund laughed.
"Oh yes, she probably thought you were a rousku, one of those bastards who can only speak Swedish."

But at least amid all the darkness the book does end with a glimpse of possible personal happiness for two of the characters. I look forward to reading the next book in this continuing series because it shows how a writer like Asa Larsson is pushing the boundaries by creating an amalgam of psychological thriller, social commentary and police procedural all in one novel.

You can read a couple of fascinating  reviews of The Black Path here and here.

7 Comments:

OpenID maxine said...

Very good post and review, Norman, as ever. I am not sure, from your review, if you have read the previous two books - I think that would make a difference to one's experience of reading this one (though they certainly can be read as standalones, there are some continuing themes, esp Rebeka and her grandfather, which is a lovely aspect). I think Asa Larsson actually is not that interested in the thriller/whodunnit part of the plot in her books - I often feel these aspects a bit weak - as here, the eventual story of the death was both not convincing and the motive obvious. However, for me the dilemmas and internal lives (mostly pain) of the characters are what fascinate in Asa Larsson's books. I just get totally absorbed.

9:05 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks Maxine I should have said that I had not read the previous two books. They sounded very bleak and dark and as I have vast piles of books to read I thought I would skip them.
I imagine pain and depression is a problem in Kiruna because of its northern location. Having spent 15 minutes in January waiting for a bus in the freezing cold north of Uppsala when I was younger I can't imagine how cold and dark Kiruna would be in winter. The bus turned up on time thankfully with typical Scandinavian efficiency but I think my heart would give out if I had to go there now.

9:28 AM  
Blogger Dorte H said...

I think I would grow a depression after the first 24 hours there.
I liked her first two, by the way, so perhaps I should write a review of them one day.

7:25 AM  
Blogger Reg said...

Just wondering what "the American dream" means across the pond:

"Mauri Kallis is a walking success story, who as a child was put in care, but has become a very rich man with business interests all over the world and a private estate where his various relatives live like feudal vassals. The 'American Dream' but in Sweden."

Yes, we all dream of living with and supporting our deadbeat relatives, who are thus duty-bound to fight neighboring dukes for us! (Sorry, couldn't resist while translating a Crusades novel -- I'm craving another crime thriller.)

Also, "exotic Indian and Sami background" -- does that mean East Indian or American ("red") Indian? Now the latter would be exotic! And did you know that Renée Zellweger is half Swiss and half Norwegian Sami?

From your purveyor of odd facts in Navajoland.

7:21 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

"The American dream" to us across this side of the pond means going from a log cabin to the White House or from a trailer park to a decent large house. Barack Obama's story fits in with our idea that America {USA and Canada,] Australia, and New Zealand are lands of opportunity in comparison to Britain.

During my history studies it amused me that in the 1840 Presidential election the log cabin was the logo of the William Henry Harrison and John Tyler ticket even though both had been born in Greek revival mansions in Virginia. I forgot did I answer a question earlier yes, I did see the dumb waiter at Monticello.

We are also incredibly politically correct over here ;o) and if we refer to Indian we mean East Indian. For American Indian we would always say "Native American".
England's cricket team might do better playing the Navajo than the Indians or the West Indians. West Indians is also a term that has gone out of use and is shortened to Windies when referring to the cricket team.

I did not know about cuddly Bridget Jones aka Renee Zellweger's Swiss/Norwegian Sami heritage I had assumed as she came from Texas [Fredericksburg and Admiral Chester Nimitz] she was of German origin.

Thank you for these odd facts from Navajoland and the advice from Finland to walk in the middle of the road during a thaw. In view of the very heavy snowfall last night it does looks a lot like Scandinavia out there except for the fact that the roads are not swept.

2:26 AM  
Blogger Reg said...

Well, here in Navajo/Pueblo/Apache country, the Native Americans don't call themselves that -- they say their tribe name or collectively use the adjective "Indian" -- although in some areas it's pronounced "Indun," as in Sherman Alexie's eastern Washington. "Native American" seems to be reserved for guilty white liberals feeling nervous.

Yes, Renee is from Texas. But she has those Sami eyes.

Jeez, Uriah, you know more American history than we do.

Reg, dreaming of Cornwall in the spring...

2:25 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

We feel guilty about everything in the UK, but I think we need to distinguish between our former colonial subjects in the Indian subcontinent and your American Indians.
It was 8 years since we were in Navajo and Pueblo country, it was very hot but very beautiful.

The road to Cornwall was blocked by snow and ice outside Exeter yesterday but will probably have cleared by the spring..........we hope.

3:13 PM  

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