When seventeen year old Wilma Persson and her boyfriend Simon go diving in northern Sweden’s Lake Vittangijärvi they’re simply after a bit of adventure. Looking for the wreckage of a German plane rumoured to have crashed into the lake during WWII. But somebody is threatened by the very fact of the dive and so the two are killed; ruthlessly trapped beneath the lake’s frozen surface. Wilma’s body is discovered in a river some months later, though police soon learn she did not die where she was found. Rebecka Martinsson, District Prosecutor, immerses herself in the investigation being led by a fragile Police Inspector, Anna-Maria Mella. The two begin to learn that there are decades-old secrets that some people will kill to protect.
One sign you’re in the presence of outstanding crime writing is when you know what crime has been committed, how it was done and soon develop a strong sense of whodunnit but you’re thoroughly enthralled by the story regardless. From a storytelling perspective at least I think this is the best of Larsson’s four novels that have so far been translated into English, striking the perfect balance of thrills and thoughtfulness as it strips away the layers of secrets being kept by a family in the village of Piilijärvi near the lake where the couple died. The once-powerful father, embittered mother and two malicious, adult sons are at the heart of one half of this novel and they are depicted wonderfully though not, for the most part, sympathetically. It is through their eyes though that we learn of the myriad small decisions and choices made over the previous decades that culminated in the murder of Wilma and Simon.
Rebecka Martinsson is at the centre of the other part of the story: former high-flying Stockholm lawyer now satisfied as a country Prosecutor as she rebuilds her life after the harrowing events depicted in earlier novels. Even without reading those earlier books though I think it would be easy to get a sense of Rebecka’s strength as well as her underlying vulnerability. Visited by Wilma’s spirit early on in the story Rebecka is sceptical but prompted to ask a few questions about the recently discovered body and so seems to feel a particularly personal connection to the case. Given that the policewoman assigned to investigate is herself experiencing fallout of actions she took during the third novel in this series, it seems quite reasonable that Rebecka might become more involved than a prosecutor would normally do. The various personal tensions surrounding all the main players are nicely intertwined with the rest of the story and help to flesh out the sensitive and credible characterisations.
My threshold for ‘woo woo’ elements in my fiction is pretty low so I was a little concerned when Wilma’s ghost made an early appearance as the narrator of parts of this novel but Larsson pulled it off with panache. I’m sceptical about the notion of proactive spirits who stomp about the afterlife rattling chains and intervening in affairs but Wilma is not that kind of ghost. She is more a manifestation of the thoughts and feelings of people still living and I can easily believe in that. I’ve had the odd conversation with someone now dead, imagining their responses to my queries, thoughts and fears and it’s that kind of presence that Wilma provides to the people in this story.
Åsa Larsson is one of the names that pops into my head whenever anyone asks about favourite writers and this book is yet more evidence of the reasons why. The writing is assured (ably assisted in this instance by translator Laurie Thompson), the story is engaging and the characters are well-crafted and surprising. Until Thy Wrath be Past has a similar sensibility to the best fairy tales: offering a compellingly dark story with just a hint of the supernatural and containing within it a gentle parable for those who need to learn about the dangers of living a life fuelled by anger and resentment. First class reading.
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I have read all three of Larsson’s earlier novels but only The Black Path since starting this blog.
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My rating 4.5/5
Translator Laurie Thompson
Publisher Maclehouse Press [this translation 2011, original edition 2008]
Length 326 pages
Format trade paperback
Book Series #4 in the Rebecka Martinsson series
Source I bought it