There is a piece of sleight-of-hand at the beginning of this novel by Swedish Crime Queen Åsa Larsson. It is a tactic which both wrongfoots the reader and imparts some vivid local colour, reminding us that we are reading something set an ocean away from London or Manchester. A man is sitting fishing on a spring evening in Torneträsk. At this time of year, the residents make the trip to a secluded area where the ice is more than a metre thick, riding snowmobiles, and towing their ‘arks’ behind them. These arks, we learn, are small fishing cabins with a hole in the floor through which the fishermen drill into the ice, and sit inside warmed by a Calor gas stove. But the fisherman in The Black Path is unlucky. Stepping outside in his underwear to relieve himself, he watches in horror as his ark is whipped away by a storm. He knows he will die unless he finds another ark. Stumbling across a deserted one, he breaks in; he sees a blanket on the bed and pulls it off. And underneath it lies the body of a woman, her eyes frozen into ice. It is at this point that the reader realises that this stunningly described chapter is, in fact, a clever revision of one of the oldest clichés in the crime thriller lexicon: the discovery of the corpse that sets the plot in motion. But those who have read Åsa Larsson’s The Savage Altar will know that every element of her work, however familiar it may be, is always granted an idiosyncratic new twist. And while many Nordic crime writers are often content to locate their bloody deeds in suburban cities not unlike those of Britain, Larsson is always looking for the more off-kilter setting. We meet again her two protagonists: attorney Rebecka Martinsson, desperate to return to work after a grisly case that has shredded her sanity, and lone wolf policewoman Anna-Maria Mella, who is handed the gruesome murder case. The woman’s body has extensive evidence of torture, and there is a puzzling detail: underneath her workout clothes, she is wearing seductive lingerie. What’s more, the victim is a key employee in a mining company with a global reach — a murky scenario. Larsson aficionados will know that her duo of distaff investigators are among the most quirkily and individually characterised in the field (no easy task in a genre awash with damaged female protagonists), but the author’s grasp of all her characters’ psychology possesses a keen veracity.
The Black Path by Åsa Larsson, translated by Marlaine Delargy
Maclehose Press, £18.99
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