Sun Storm (2006, 310 pages) by Åsa Larsson with translation by Marlaine Delargy is the first book in a series set in Stockholm. The other title(s) for this book: Solstorm in Sweden and The Savage Altar in the UK. I love good drama and this book delivered. Overall thoughts: gripping, page-turning. I raced to the end.
A religious leader is slain in a church that he helped build and the community shuts down and refuses to cooperate with the police. The only way to crack the case is by a disgraced former member of that community. Cast of characters include the cold, distant, uncooperative pastors/elders whose lips are shut tight. Then there’s the victim’s fragile sister, mother of two little girls.
Add to all of that some type of dark secret that hints at sexual intrigue or revenge that for sure will shatter the community and cause ugly headlines and scandal. If you’re going to read this book, just politely tell the family you’ll be busy for awhile. Just lock the door and hang out a do not disturb sign. You’re not going to want to put this one down until it’s finished.
The series star is Rebecka Martinsson. She’s a tax attorney working in Stockholm but she grew up in Kiruna, the northern part of Sweden. Rebecka was once a member of the fundamentalist church called, The Source of All Our Strength, before she was asked to leave. She’s shocked and frightened when she learns about the murder in her former hometown. The memories of the past come flooding back. Through flashbacks, we learn why she left in disgrace.
The victim is pastor Viktor Strandgård or as he is better known by the media: Paradise Boy. He helped build The Source of All Our Strength church. He also wrote a book about his near death experience that was a bestseller, called Heaven and Back. His brutally slain body is found near the altar of the church. The manner of death strongly hinting at a personal vendetta and not some random crime. The very pregnant, Inspector Anna-Maria Mella and her partner, Sven Erik Stålnacke are investigating the case. Anna-Maria is supposed to be on desk duty but she’s asked to help in an unofficial capacity. I see why, too. She’s very smart.
I like Ms. Larsson’s authorial voice very much. She takes us inside the church community and it’s not a rosy picture she paints of it either. There’s religious zealotry in it’s many forms. When Rebecka’s friend, Sanna Strandgård calls asking her for help after her brother, Viktor is killed, Rebecka drives down there with every intention of driving back to the city but she reluctantly stays as the case unfolds and arrests are made. She left this town in disgrace and she isn’t welcome back either. It’s not long after she’s arrived in Kiruna that she’s threatened with a note saying in part “leave things alone and go back home.”
The investigation with Inspector Anna Maria and Sven-Erik into the death of the celebrity preacher seems almost like an afterthought. Most of the story is on Rebecka’s past and exploring this community and the people within up close and personal. We learn the truth behind her leaving the church and why she has such a strained relationship with her friend Sanna, who always shuts down when questioned about her brother’s murder. Rebecka starts tracking the money and finds that the church has some dubious financial records. The momentum never lets up and the tension just increased as Rebecka gets involved on behalf of her friend. The police investigation had an ancillary role in here with Rebecka providing most of the insight and investigation into this closed community.
Favorite scenes? Oh, I had a bunch of those. One scene I especially liked was when Rebecka goes toe to toe with one of the pastors who tells her to stay out of it. Rebecka responds back head strong and fierce. She even quotes the bible to him. Parts that he didn’t like of course. Final exchange ended with this (loved it):
“And you think you belong to the righteous?” he whispered scornfully.
“No,” Rebecka whispered back. “But maybe you should prepare yourself to keep me company in hell.”
The pacing of the novel was well done. The title, Sun Storm, refers to the “aurora borealis” that takes place in the sky as most of the town is hit with a snow storm. Also, I hate flashbacks and this story relied heavily on them and I didn’t mind them at all. While there are a lot of things I enjoyed about the story, I thought the ending was slightly disappointing. It’s the climatic scene where everything is explained by the perpetrators before they are shot to death. Yes, the ending relied on convention but that’s okay.
Sun Storm is a good read and one I’d recommend highly. As for Rebecka carrying this series: very doable. She’s an overworked tax attorney with a temper sometimes. She’s described as being so thin that her ribcage shows. Ugh. She’s interesting though. Career driven as well. Lastly, I must mention Måns Wenngren, Rebecka’s prickly boss. Is he interested in her? I loved how he came to her rescue in dealing with some things that she couldn’t do herself. Overall, B+. I bought the sequels. This book was recommended by Maxine at Petrona (great blog!).
Notes on the digital edition: I bought the ePub file from The Sony Reader Store. Formatting was not the best on this agency priced digital book that I bought. Of course I didn’t get the original cover. I had to increase the font size to XL on my devise in order to make this a more readable text. Increasing the font size also made new chapters display 1/4th from the bottom of the screen. Some words were mashed together often enough to notice. No chapter headings at all (which was strange and not a formatting issue).