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THE BLACK PATH by Asa Larsson: Book Review

Can one ever recover from an unhappy childhood? This novel is full of people whose sad memories still haunt them, and to some extent control them, many years later.

In The Black  Path, Asa Larsson brings back two of her characters from previous books:  police inspector Anna-Maria Mella and attorney Rebecka Martinsson. Up in Tornetrask, northern Sweden, the two are brought together to work on the brutal murder of business executive Inna Wattrang. Her body was found abandoned in an ark, a wooden hut used in ice fishing.  Inna was beautiful, intelligent, successful, but someone hated her enough to both torture her and then stab her to death.  Why?

Anna-Maria is the head of the homicide force in the small city of Kiruna.  She’s happily married, the mother of four children.  Rebecka Martinsson is a well-respected attorney in Stockholm, originally from Kiruna, who has just been released from a mental hospital, having suffered a breakdown after seeing the murdered body of a close friend and then being forced to kill three men in self-defense.  Now Rebecka wants nothing more than to return to the house in which she grew up and to be left alone.  But that is not to be.

Inna’s boss and her brother, his business partner, are brought in to identify her body.  Her boss, Mauri Kallis, is a self-made multi-millionaire, a rarity in a country where one’s birth still counts in society. Abandoned by a father he never knew, neglected by a mother with a mental illness, brought up in a foster family with a vicious older foster “brother,” Mauri has tried to put all that behind him by pretending it never happened.  Never given love or attention during his childhood, he’s unable to give them to his wife and two young sons.  There’s a cold core in his center, and he’s not interested in thawing it out.

All he’s interested in is making money–it’s money, after all, that has given him the clout to build both physical and metaphysical walls between himself and the rest of the world.  So far Mauri has had the Midas touch, always knowing when to put money into a business and when to take it out, but with his new mining venture in Uganda, he may be in over his head.

Inna’s brother Diddi has slid through life with his good looks and charming manner, despite his own unhappy upbringing. But his dissolute ways are catching up to him.  He’s been a partner with Mauri in their firm–Mauri is Mr. Inside, Diddi is Mr. Outside–but he’s losing his touch with the important, rich people the firm needs in order to continue to make its risky investments.

Can the possible business problems and the cooling personal relationship between her boss and her brother explain why Inna was killed?  Are those issues central to her murder or merely peripheral?

There’s a strong friendship building between Anna-Maria and Rebecka, two women who don’t have much in common. Anna-Maria’s life, in her opinion, is just about perfect, giving her both a happy family and professional success.  On the other hand, Rebecka’s demons, brought about in great part by a neglectful mother (they’re everywhere in this novel), have made her successful in work but fearful in her personal life.  Attracted to a colleague in her Stockholm law firm, she’s convinced herself that she’s not worthy of his attention, much less his love, and is almost suicidal in her despair at ever finding someone with whom to share her life.

A wonderful character study as well as an engrossing, if very dark, novel, Asa Larsson’s series continues to bring northern Sweden closer to us.

Ms. Larsson doesn’t appear to have an English web page, but you can read more about her at this web page.