Snowdrifts and deep secrets bury a small village in Sweden.
This debut thriller won Sweden’s Best First Crime Novel award for 2003. In what appears to be the start of a series, the author, a former tax lawyer from Stockholm born in the Lapland village of Kiruna, sends Stockholm tax lawyer Rebecka Martinsson to Kiruna to find out what led to the grisly murder of Viktor Standgård, one of four pastors at the Source of All Our Strength Church. In a possibly ritualistic murder at the site of the church altar, Standgård had been virtually slaughtered, his hands cut off, his body slit open, his eyes extracted from their sockets. A young mother, Rebecka’s deeply neurotic friend Sanna, becomes a major suspect and is subsequently arrested for the crime when the blood-stained knife used to carve up the victim turns up in her home. Attempting to clear Sanna, Rebecka sniffs out an illegal tax scheme. The aurora borealis flares and villagers eye each other with enmity as clues, motives and more suspects emerge. Was the late pastor the victim of a spurned male lover? Had the pastor and perhaps even Sanna molested her two young daughters? And who is the psychopath who kidnaps and murders Sanna’s dog? More than familial ties bind Rebecka to the village and the case: Years ago, she had an affair with one of the church’s married pastors, who left her pregnant. In a violent finale, the villains, rather apparent all along, threaten her life and those of Sanna’s daughters.
Larsson depicts her characters with mordant wit and describes their village with richly atmospheric details. A flurry of clues, however, fails to conceal familiar, uncomplicated and predictable plotting.