It took me long enough but I finally finished 1 my first book of the year. I chose to read Åsa Larsson because she is one of my favorite female writers. She usually delivers a solid, entertaining read but with her latest novel, THE SECOND DEADLY SIN (2014), translated by Laurie Thompson, I found the plot not as compelling as her earlier stories. This is the fifth book in the Rebecka Martinsson series that started with SUN STORM (THE SAVAGE ALTAR/UK). The opening pages were great and filled with action and suspense. The local hunting party commissions an expert marksmen into the woods after a wounded bear. Once the bear is killed, they go through his stomach contents and unexpectedly find human remains.

Book Cover for The Second Deadly Sin shows the partial view of a young boyFrom there the author goes on to tell two stories using third person narrative. One story is set during the First World War in Kiruna and follows Elina Pettersson, a school teacher, who was murdered in her classroom. The second story takes place in the present with District Prosecutor Rebecka Martinsson teaming up with detectives Anna-Maria Mella, Sven Erik Stålnacke and police officer/dog handler, Krister Eriksson as they investigate the death of a local woman in Kurravaara.  Sol-Britt Uusitalo was a waitress who was taking care of her 7 year old grandson, Marcus. Martinsson and her neighbor, Sivving go to check on her and find her stabbed to death in her home with the words “whore” written on the wall over her bed.

Rebecka and team find out that Sol-Britt’s family have experienced a lot of bad luck. Her father was mauled by a bear some years ago. Her son died from a hit and run accident. Her paternal grandmother, Elina Pettersson, whose story is told to us in flashbacks, was murdered. The police begin to think that someone is trying to wipe out the entire family.

THE SECOND DEADLY SIN had an excellent beginning but in the end it was a disappointing read. I think what happened for me was that the World War I storyline was the weakest part of the overall story.  Sure, I appreciated the author going in-depth about the origins of Kiruna and how it was built into this booming mining town and discussed its role in providing iron ore to other countries during the war. The love story was cliché ridden and ended badly and tragically. The villain in this storyline was also one-dimensional: a vile man who hated women. The mystery focused more on motive than the culprit but both were big revelations at the end.

The present story wasn’t without its problems, too. The office politics that I usually love was more of nuisance and a contrivance. For example, Rebecka Martinsson is hated by another district prosecutor, Carl von Post, because she’s popular with the media among other things. So he has Martinsson taken off the preliminary case for some stupid reason which frees her up to do some investigating of her own. The von Post sub-thread was a waste of time. Not only did he have the wrong suspect but for almost every development he had to call a press conference. He was again, a one-dimensional antagonist. Rebecka’s love life is also a sub-thread in the story and the author moves that action along and it promises to be an interesting complication.

Later in the story it’s found that no one had thoroughly gone through Sol-Britt’s things and what do you know, motive finally rears its ugly head. Overall, I felt that the story was drawn out at 352 pages. It lacked suspense, for the most part nor did it have any meaningful surprises or twists. I felt that the resolution was a mixed bag. It was an emotional ending for its characters. For me I was disengaged at that point. I felt that the pertinent pieces of the story for which there weren’t very many were thrown in key spots to get the story from A to B. To me this wasn’t  Åsa Larsson’s best work. If I had to give this novel a grade it would be a C- for average read because when I put it down, I didn’t feel compelled to pick it back up. The author admits that this book was a struggle for her to write. Here’s hoping the next entry will be better. This wasn’t awful. Just not as good as I’ve known her to be.

Åsa Larsson is a typical Scandinavian author. She provides interesting and sometimes fascinating details about Kiruna where she was born and where she sets most of her stories in the series. She incorporates the religious beliefs of her characters. Her stories are character driven. Unlike Jo Nesbo who develops all of his characters even the minor ones, I find that Larsson just sticks to her main characters development. She also addresses the realistic effects that crime has on her characters which puts her books a cut above the rest. The tone of her novels can be bleak and melancholy and she usually has original content.

I think her books can stand alone well since each case is concluded at the end of each book but I’d recommend reading them in order and if you are interested here is the reading list: Sun Storm (2006), The Blood Split (2007), The Black Path (2008) and Until Thy Wrath Be Past (2011).  My favorites are Sun Storm and Until Thy Wrath Be Past.

  1. This book is already out in the UK (where I obtained my copy). US publication is June 3rd, 2014.