Reviewed by James Walker in SBR 2013:1
Review Section: Crime Fiction
The note from the editor which accompanied the book suggested ‘this might be an unusual work of crime fiction’ and how right that was.
Lars Pettersson is a freelance filmmaker and his first novel was originally written as a film script. The feel of the book is quite filmic from the very start and Pettersson’s choice of a familiar landscape (he lives in Kautokeino during the winter) is inspired and fascinating. The landscape sets the novel apart from other works of Scandinavian crime fiction, past settings of which have included Gotland, Skåne and Stockholm. Pettersson takes his readers to deepest Lapland, just inside Norway near the borders with Sweden and Finland.
The author’s choice of heroine also differs from most other crime fiction in that, rather than a detective or journalist or IT geek, Anna Magnusson is a deputy public prosecutor, working for the court service in suburban Stockholm where she lives. Anna’s recently deceased mother, Anna Marja, left her family of traditional reindeer herders to seek a new life in Stockholm. When Anna is asked by her grandmother to use her legal skills to help her family, she heads north to Lapland, to Kautokeino.
Her cousin Nils Mattis (Niilas Mahte) has been accused of raping a woman and Anna is asked to persuade his accuser, Karen Margrethe, to withdraw the charge against him and by so doing restore the family honour.
Unlike the common run of thrillers, there are no dead bodies in the first third of the book. Instead, we are treated to wonderful descriptions of Lapland and in particular of the vast snow-covered landscape, the biting cold and the changing winds (Lapps can tell by the smell what kind of snow might fall), reindeer herding and slaughter, as well as the perils of travelling in such an inhospitable landscape.
The novel works on different levels: Anna or Johvnas Annas Marjas Anna, her Lapp name, struggles to side with her family after having interviewed the rape victim. She struggles, too, to avoid blame similar to that which was heaped on her mother, who left her family to maintain the reindeer herding tradition and opted for a far more comfortable life in Stockholm. The local tradition of rough justice versus the established legal system is another fierce conflict: she is after all a public prosecutor!
Concurrently with the development of the crime plot around the death of the rape victim Karen Margrethe – did she freeze to death or take a drugs overdose? – and subsequent suspicious deaths, Anna has to come to terms with her feelings about these isolated people, their way of life, self-pity, malaise and blame culture at the same time as she is helping the local police find the killer or killers.
The strength of this first novel set in Lapland is not so much the plot and the whodunit, but rather the account Lars Pettersson weaves around the people eking out a living in this frozen wilderness and their struggle to keep alive local traditions of language and culture, while being hampered by the alien civilisation, with its different morals and values that the Oslo government tries to impose. Fascinating!