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by Asa Larsson
Delacorte, January 2007
352 pages
ISBN: 0385339828

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The icy north of Sweden's obviously a dodgy place to be if you're religious in any way. In Asa Larsson's first book, translated in the UK as THE SAVAGE ALTAR and as SUN STORM in the US, three pastors from a very unpleasant cult-type church were killed. In Larsson's second book, THE BLOOD SPILT, a woman priest is found hanging in her church.

The first book featured troubled lawyer Rebecka Martinsson. She's back in THE BLOOD SPILT, but for chunks of the book she's not the main focus. The action, in what is a fairly slow-moving story, moves between Rebecka, colleague Torsten Karlsson, police detective Anna-Maria Mella, at least one of her colleagues, and a host of villagers. And I could have lived without the sections told by a wolf (yes, really).

And that provides the reader with a problem, as we never get close enough to one person to empathise with them. We never meet Mildred, the dead priest, face-to-face, so must rely on other people's views of her. And the lack of focus means we never spend enough time with potentially interesting characters such as Lisa (who was particularly friendly with Mildred) and her daughter Mimmi.

Eighteen months have passed between the action in the first book and THE BLOOD SPILT. Anna-Maria's baby is now a hyperactive toddler and Rebecka's legal career is in the doldrums. She's been off on sick leave and is occasionally allowed to sit in on other colleagues' cases. She finds herself back in KIruna when she accompanies Torsten on a case to do with church finances. And there's still has the love-hate relationship with her boss Mans (yes, I bet we know where that's going in future books!)

The ending is very bleak and the whodunit almost an afterthought. THE BLOOD SPILT is a book well worth your time, but in many ways would work better as a psychological thriller looking at some very damaged people, rather than as a so-so police procedural especially given the police seem pretty inefficient. It takes a lawyer to tell them what charge they could slap on a bloke who's been killing cats to intimidate his ex-wife, and they seem to make a habit of turning up at places without warrants.

Larsson's taking a risk in ploughing more or less the same furrow that if a dodgy church and with a troubled female character drifting around. It's an engrossing enough read, and I certainly intend to continue with the series, but it could have been so much better.

Technically Larsson still has a lot of work to do. She has no idea whatsoever about point of view, and blithely hops around in successive paragraphs. And tenses float confusingly.

The third book could be significant in signalling where this series is going. Larsson's strengths are her portrayal of small town life, set amidst tough and unyielding landscape. But she needs some new plot ideas fairly quickly.

Oh, and she makes Henning Mankell look like a laugh a minute!

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, February 2007

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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