The Blood Split (2008) by Åsa Larsson with translation by Marlaine Delargy is the second book featuring tax attorney Rebecka Martinsson. She first appeared in Sun Storm, a riveting story that focused on religious zealotry. Both books are set in North Sweden where the subarctic climate is characterized by unusually long and freezing winters. The type of crime fiction that Åsa Larsson writes have to do with social criticism in family dynamics, social power, religion and the centuries old conflict between men and women.
The Blood Split takes place during the mildly warmer summer months and about a year and a half later after the event(s) of the last book. This series is best categorized as police procedurals even though the main star is a lawyer. Rebecka’s path often intersects with detectives Anna-Maria Mella (married with children) and her partner, Sven Erik Stålnacke (lives alone with his cat). There is something about Ms. Larsson’s stories and her storytelling abilities that keeps me riveted. The truth is that she’s really good about writing human drama and its triumphs and tragedies. Her prose/narrative is full of energy. Conflicts, secrets and regular people who react impulsively from their inner demons and rage make up the majority of her stories thus far. A lot of the secrets aren’t hard to figure out but that didn’t stop it from being an engrossing read.
The crime in this novel involves another member of the clergy. This time it’s a female priest who was a polarizing figure within the community. She’s described as being “fearless”, “passionate” and a “feminist” in which that last accusation has something to do with her starting a women’s group. Her body is found inside the church in a way that is described as something you would see from the “Middle Ages” as a warning to others. What others? and more importantly, what is the warning about?
The author through the vehicle of her characters try to shed some light on a motive and point us in the direction of the culprit. As a reader you can’t help but wonder why anyone would kill a priest and a woman at that. The police assume that there’s a copycat only to rule that out later. The red herrings are plentiful because the priest had so many enemies. Mainly it was the men she pissed off royally with her ideas and influence.
I like that the story acknowledges the coincidence of two crimes involving priests within the same community. The likelihood of that happening in life would be. . . very unlikely. Like other Scandinavian crime fiction writers, the author does a good job in giving readers a sense of time and place. The contrasting weather is always freezing cold with the ground covered with snow and the sun blazing brightly in the sky.
As for the characters in the story, they are well written and fleshed out very well. Rebecka Martinsson shares characteristics with the author in that she is an attorney in Stockholm who grew up in Kiruna, a city in the northernest part of Sweden. Rebecka was forced to leave Kiruna due to some strife in the church community (see Sun Storm). She left in disgrace. She still has unresolved issues of her past that continues to be an emotional obstacle for her. Her internal anguish has more to do with her not belonging and being considered an “outsider.” For a successful career woman she seems disenchanted with her life choices and yearns for something quiet and simple.
The author continues to use flashbacks to give us a better idea/understanding of her characters. I don’t mind it and I typically hate flashbacks. The story does incorporate some light paranormal elements. It’s barely there to even notice so I shouldn’t probably mention it but I am. Since I’m a romance reader, yes, I am very anxious about the development between Rebecka and her boss, Måns Wenngren. In this scene, Rebecka has been confronted by some locals who find out her true identity. She’d been shielded from the media scrutiny and her involvement with the three pastors who were found killed from the last case. So, Måns reaches out to give his support/advice to her. The two can’t seem to communicate very well though.
“Do you want me to sort it out for you?”
No, of course not, he thought. Can do it herself.
“Then you’ll just have to go back there and pay it,” he said.
“You haven’t done anything wrong, you don’t need to go crawling.”
“Even if you have done something wrong, you shouldn’t crawl,” Måns went on.
Silence on the other end of the phone.
“This is turning into hard work, Martinsson,” said Måns.
“Sorry,” she said
There are recurring themes in Ms. Larsson’s novels. Mostly having to do with the conflict between men and women and religion. Duplicity and/or deceit and secrets are a big part of her stories especially with the church and the clergy. Within this institution there are power struggles and in this story, the possible disruption of the hunting club and it’s finances. You get the feeling that anyone who fooled with these people, especially since the leader of the hunting club is an imposing ex-police officer with a high standing in the community, would tread very carefully here. Some of the men felt threatened by this woman priest and her wanting to make some dramatic changes. In retaliation some of them slashed her tires and vandalized her property but obviously this didn’t deter her one bit.
As for the police investigation, it is interweaved nicely with the other threads in the story. After all, the series star is Rebecka and she is more front in center here just like in the last book. Her relationship with the detectives is still under development. Meaning that there really isn’t a real relationship there yet but Rebecka does risk her job to give the police evidence that the church was trying to possibly keep secret. The church hired her firm to help them out with legal issues and Rebecka came along to help but ended up staying for a short holiday, living in a chalet near the local bar.
There is a storyline that follows a wolf pack, that’s headlined “Yellow Legs” and I read/skimmed enough to ascertain that the story about the she-wolf and her relationship with the pack is a metaphorical take on Rebecka’s life. Moving on. I read this book every chance I got. There is a lot left of the plot that I haven’t mentioned. It took me longer than usual to read this book because my spare time is very limited at the moment.
Åsa Larsson is a wonderful writer of crime fiction. I think she will be a big star if she’s isn’t one already. Her writing is smart and she focuses a lot of her attention to her characters which I like. I think she should be on everyone’s must read list. Her nuanced writing style may not suit some people (from looking at the reviews as they are all over the place) and her books are connected enough to not stand alone well. I will admit to favoring crime fiction that is full of drama and angst. If I had to criticize it would be the predictable ending. It’s not bad per se but like I said, predictable. This author made me a fan after her first book so I am happy to say that she continues to entertain me. Quite thoroughly, too. B+.
Source: I bought this book after reading Sun Storm