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Åsa Larsson, Svart stig (The Black Path)

Albert Bonniers förlag,  2006. ISBN: 9789100111380

Reviewed by Irene Scobbie in SBR 2007:1

English Translation: The Black Path, translated by Marlaine Delargy. Delacorte Press, 2008. ISBN 9780385341011.

This is Åsa Larsson’s third crime novel dealing with Rebecka Martinsson, now slowly but successfully recovering from a mental breakdown after killing three people in self-defence and only just escaping with her life. Rebecka has left behind her the large successful law firm in Stockholm and now works for the Prosecution Service in her native Kuuravaara. The plot revolves less around her this time, however, and more around such characters as Mauri Killis, who is from Lapland, and the aristocratic siblings Inna and Diddi Wattrang.

An unidentified woman’s electrocuted and stabbed body is found in an "ark" (a protective hut on runners used when fishing through a hole in the ice). She proves to be Inna Wattrang, an associate and public relations officer in Mauri Killis’ Mining Company. This leads the investigation into the world of metals prospecting not just in Sweden and Canada but the Congo and Uganda, and into the murky politics of concessions and mining in unstable African states. From humble beginnings Mauri Killis has built up an impressive financial empire, instinctively buying and selling shares and mining concessions at the right moment, but now he has taken a greater risk and has bought land and mining rights in Uganda. A huge investment was needed to build up the infrastructure before the ore could be marketed, and Killis was successful as long as the political situation was under control and Uganda was receiving aid from the UN, but now rebel armies are opposing the President, international subsidies are being withdrawn, and Killis Mining Company is under serious threat.

There was evidence earlier that Killis could be ruthless where his interests were concerned. A Swedish journalist suspecting foul play and insider dealing, for instance, dies – but was it suicide? With the deteriorating situation in Uganda and their government threatening to take over his assets, Killis sets out to defend his empire and begins to consort with suspect characters, including Gerhart Sneyer, owner of various mines in Africa and on the Human Rights Watch Committee’s black list. Larsson shows her usual skill at pacing her plot, holding our attention and leading up to a climax acted out when professional hit men are employed, not on African soil but on Killis’s estate in Södermanland.

The strength of the work lies above all in character portrayal and in the authentic Lapland setting. Killis epitomizes the rags to riches story, coming from a poor dysfunctional family and using his entrepreneurial talents to amass a fortune and win international recognition. He never succeeds wholly, however, in shrugging off his inferiority complex, which is shown in subtle ways in his attitude to the upper-class Wattrangs, who introduce him to their world. The Wattrang siblings have charm and charisma and are extremely sociable, but are amoral, indulge in drugs and occasionally odd sexual practices. There is a strong bond between them and a love that is incestuous on Diddi’s part, but the more complex Inna proves to have more integrity in this as in business matters, a trait that leads ultimately to her death. Inna seems to be the one living woman the self-controlled Killis really cares for; and when she disagrees profoundly with his ruthless actions and becomes a danger to him Killis is faced with a tragic decision.

Several native Lapland characters have an almost exotic flavour: an old woman with clairvoyant qualities, two peasant women with artistic gifts, and Killis’s young half-sister who embodies all these qualities and (less convincing in the final stages) becomes a kind of Pippi Longstocking figure as she takes on her half-brother’s enemies. Favourites from the earlier novels also appear, such as DI Anna Maria Mella, with four children, a loving husband, a love of life and her job and a fund of humour and common sense, her colleague Sven Erik Stålnacke, Rebecka’s good friend Sivving and Rebecka herself. Rebecka still loves her former employer Måns Wenngren, but it is the sound people in her native Lapland that have most helped her emotional healing.

The author is at present enjoying great success. Solstorm (Sun Storm), her first novel, is currently being filmed, and she tells us that she plans another three novels in the Rebecka Martinsson series. I look forward to them eagerly, but since her unique talent lies in describing Lapland in winter and its inhabitants there rather than in less convincing excursions into the world of ruthless moguls, merciless bodyguards and corrupt underdeveloped states, I hope personally that she is not tempted to go too far afield.

Irene Scobbie

Also by Åsa Larsson

  • Det blod som spillts (The Blood That Was Shed). Reviewed by Irene Scobbie in SBR 2004:2.
  • Solstorm (Sunstorm). Reviewed by Irene Scobbie in SBR 2003:2.

Other reviews by Irene Scobbie

Other reviews in SBR 2007:1

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