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the second deadly sin

21 november 2014

Åsa Larsson builds on her excellent Till Thy Wrath Be Past to provide more cold cases and angst-laden character arcs in The Second Deadly Sin.

One of the main streets in the real town of Kiruna, in the north of Sweden, is called Hjalmar Lundbohmsvägen, after a historical person named Hjalmar Lundbohm, about whom I'd know a lot more if I could read Swedish. It seems that Lundbohm (1855-1926) trained as a geologist and then ran a mining company in Kiruna. He was a big noise there, and in addition to the street, there's a school named after him. Various artists painted his portrait; he moved in cultured circles.

Larsson creates a fictional Lundbohm with an imaginary secret life. She gives him an uninhibited young lover named Elina, a schoolteacher from the south who, in the 1910s, genuinely falls in love with the bloated, smoky old tycoon, and becomes pregnant with his child. But all this is extremely-far-backstory. In the 21st century, in interleaving chapters, our series heroes Rebecka Martinsson and Anna-Maria Mella have a murder on their hands: an aging alcoholic woman, stabbed innumberable times with a hayfork.

Well, this is Sweden, and this is a novel, and brutally-murdered corpses litter the housing stock. Nobody would even think of this crime as short-story material unless the dead woman's son hadn't been run over in mysterious circumstances – and her father eaten by a bear. This is a family that goes beyond even the usual Swedish-Krimi ration of violent death.

Larsson complicates her detectives' task by shunting the responsibility for the investigation onto a complete ####heel of a moron named Von Post, all the while complicating Martinsson's 2010s love life as she's complicating Elina's 1910s love life in counterpoint. And yes, the stories eventually run together. The Second Deadly Sin is a nice slice of imaginative historical fiction run together with a grimly funny, often manic modern mystery story.

Larsson, Åsa. The Second Deadly Sin. [Till offer åt Molok, 2012.] Translated by Laurie Thompson, 2013. New York: MacLehose [Quercus], 2014.

Danish title: Som offer til Molok
German title: Denn die Gier wird euch verderben
Italian title: Sacrificio a Moloch