In the firmament of Scandinavian noir writers, Åsa Larssen’s star shines the brightest. Larsson has three likeable detectives, and of the three Rebecka Martinsson is the most compelling. Rebecka isn’t a detective at all, but a tax attorney working her butt off in Stockholm.
In Larssen’s first book Sun Storm, Rebecka is called back to her home, the northernmost town of Kiruna. Think about “northernmost” and “Sweden” and you get a sense of the frozen exoticism of this land of forests, rivers and wolves, polar night and the Aurora Borealis.
Rebecka is an unlikely detective: she’s unqualified as an investigator, she hovers somewhere between introverted and autistic, and if that weren’t hard enough, she left Kiruna years ago under a cloud of disgrace. Yet it’s Rebecka who solves the case. In Larsson’s next books: The Blood Spilt and The Black Path, Rebecka continues as a reluctant but gifted investigator.
With Larsson’s series, we have a fascinating detective, and great, twisty plots, but I have other reasons for worshipping Åsa Larsson. Larssen sees deep within the human heart and records shame, longing, loneliness, love and comfort. Here’s an example: “She had put the tray of coffee and sandwiches down on the floor. Then she crept up behind him, kneeling on the bed. His hips between her thighs. She had let her dressing gown fall open and pressed her breasts and her cheek against his back while her hands caressed his firm shoulders. ‘Astrid’ was all he said. Troubled and suffering. Filled her name with apologies and feelings of guilt. She had fled the kitchen. Switched on the radio and the dishwasher. Picked up Baloo and wept into the dog’s fur.”
The landscapes are gorgeous: “At quarter past three in the morning it begins to snow. Just a few flakes at first, then more and more. Above the dense clouds the Aurora Borealis hurls herself recklessly across the heavens. Writhing like a snake. Opening herself up to the constellations.”
And I love her endings. Endings are the devil, but Larssen finishes her stories with a 10-point land. Each one leaves me breathless.
Although each novel is a stand-alone, I recommend reading her books in order. And then you, too, will worship at the altar of Åsa Larssen.
Lily Gardner lives in the rainy city of Portland, Oregon with her husband, two corgis and several thousand books. Her two hard-boiled detective novels, Betting Blind and A Bitch Called Hope are published by Diversion Books and available everywhere. Check out her film noir reviews at www.lilygardner.net.