Nordic Noir

Solstorm, by Åsa Larsson, was published in Sweden in 2003. In 2006, it was published in the USA, translated by Marlaine Delargy, as Sun Storm. In 2007, it was published in the UK as The Savage Altar.

The first sentence is: “When Viktor Strandgård dies it is not, in fact, for the first time.

Sun StormRebecka Martinsson is a newly qualified tax attorney, working for Meijer & Ditinger, in Stockholm. She and her colleague Maria Taube are listening to the news on the radio. A well-known religious leader, aged thirty, had been found murdered in his church in Kiruna. The police have no suspects, and the murder weapon has not been found.

Maria notices that Rebecka seems especially upset by this news. The phone rings, and Maria answers it. The caller is from Kiruna, and is asking for Rebecka Martinsson.

Inspector Anna-Maria Mella is called in to investigate the murder of Viktor Strandgård, whose mutilated body was found in The Source of All Our Strength church.

Inspector Mella is in the final days of her pregnancy. She’s supposed to be on desk duty.

Viktor Strandgård had become a religious celebrity after he died in a hospital, following an automobile accident. When he came back to life, he told his followers that he’d been to Heaven, where he met Jesus. His miracle united the area’s churches and formed The Source of All Our Strength church.

Sanna Strandgård had been the first to find her brother’s body in her church. Now she’s hiding out, and has called her friend Rebecka for help.

Returning to Kiruna is not going to be easy for Rebecka Martinsson. There is a lot of history there which she would rather not relive.

Rebecka’s boss, Måns Wenngren, grants her a few days off to visit her friend. Then he wonders what the hell is going on when he sees a news report that Sanna Strandgård had gone to the police station to be interviewed, accompanied by her lawyer, Rebecka Martinsson.

Sun Storm constantly switches point of view and locations. There’s the domestic life in northern Sweden, where Rebecka cares for Sanna’s children, and, as a tax attorney, tries to act as a criminal lawyer. There’s the law firm in Stockholm, trying to figure out what to do about a newly qualified tax attorney who has apparently overstepped her job description. There’s Anna-Maria and her team of Kiruna police officers, running an official investigation. And there’s The Source of All Our Strength church, protecting itself from the evils of the outside world. For a while, I wondered if Rebecka Martinsson actually was the protagonist of this novel. But the story always returns to Rebecka and her journey into her past.

Sun Storm is a classic noir story. It’s a gloomy mystery, centered around a grisly murder, where everyone has something they’d like to hide. It’s a fascinating double-investigation, with Anna-Maria and Rebecka working independently, and often in opposition, trying to solve the same case from two different angles.

The murderer is revealed abruptly – a little too abruptly, I thought. The mystery is solved a little too conveniently. But I enjoyed Sun Storm, and I’d be interested in reading the next book in the Rebecka Martinsson series.

Sun Storm has a strange “About the author” section, in the back of the book, which devotes more words to plugging the book I just read than to telling me about the author: “Åsa Larsson was born in 1966 and lives in the country outside Kyköping. Sun Storm, her debut novel, is a tense thriller with considerable literary merit. Even before publication in Sweden, translation rights had been sold to several countries, including Norway, Denmark and Germany.

Why I chose this book:

I did an internet search for “Nordic noir” and found a list of books, including The Man Who Went Up in Smoke (which I used for “A book by two authors”), and Sun Storm. I did a little research on Sun Storm, and learned that it was written by a former tax attorney from Kiruna, and that the novel is about a tax attorney from Kiruna. I chose this book for two reasons: The protagonist of this crime drama is not a detective (which sounded refreshing), and the author set a crime drama in her home town (which sounded like it could contain some local color).

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