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by Asa Larsson
Viking, April 2007
320 pages
12.99 GBP
ISBN: 0670916145

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

THE SAVAGE ALTAR is a book OD'ing on snow, blood and that morose sort of storytelling seemingly peculiar to Scandinavian writers.

Rebecka Martinsson is a corporate lawyer in Stockholm. It's the kind of firm where you get ahead by working every hour in the day, toeing the party line and looking like a poster girl. So she doesn't put herself top of the popularity stakes when a phonecall one morning sends her bolting for the airport.

The call was from Rebecka's childhood friend Sanna and she ends up back in the far northern town of Kiruna, a place she thought she'd left for good. For Sanna's brother Viktor Strandgard, leader of a religious cult, has been found dead and mutilated in the church aisle.

Rebecka only intends to stay for a short time, but soon she's in too deep with investigating the cult and its thoroughly unpleasant members, despite the fact she looks like compromising her career.

THE SAVAGE ALTAR is the first in a series and shows some debut wobbles, mainly in the form of tenses slipping and an inability by the writer to understand point of view. Larsson is in and out of her characters' heads like a rat down a drainpipe. This is a book that would benefit from being two people's stories Rebecka's and that of pregnant Inspector Anna-Maria Mella.

But once you're past the rough patches, it's a novel that's difficult to put down. Larsson is a confident storyteller and pulls you into the icy community with ease. It's a chilling, creepy book where you'll want to turn the central heating up to full blast as you read!

Rebecka is a distant, damaged heroine who finds herself having to cope with a past she thought she'd dealt with. But Larsson makes her someone you root for, due to the fact she's so tenacious. The same goes for Anna-Maria, who has echoes of Marge, the pregnant detective in the film Fargo.

The other characters tend towards the unlikeable, and you do wonder occasionally why Rebecka would want to help someone as feeble, manipulative and selfish as Sanna.

The ending is a touch predictable, due to an eye-rolling spot of femjep, but Larsson gets away with it simply because of the hard work she's done on enticing the reader into a distant and chilly world.

Buyer beware: The American edition of this book goes under the title SUN STORM.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, March 2007

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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