Review: Until Thy Wrath Be Past by Asa Larsson

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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Until Thy Wrath Be Past had been reviewed at Mysteries in Paradise, Nordic Bookblog

I have read all three of Larsson’s earlier novels but only The Black Path since starting this blog.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
My rating 4.5/5
Translator Laurie Thompson
Publisher Maclehouse Press [this translation 2011, original edition 2008]
ISBN 9780857050731
Length 326 pages
Format trade paperback
Book Series #4 in the Rebecka Martinsson series
Source I bought it

This entry was posted in Asa Larsson, book review, Nordic Challenge 2011, Sweden. Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Review: Until Thy Wrath Be Past by Asa Larsson

  1. Maxine says:

    What a brilliant review of a superb book, Bernadette! You have truly “got” the book, and encapsulate and analyse it so well. (My review is submitted to euro Crime but is nothing like as good or perceptive as yours). I do hope the novel does well as this author is just so good, she deserves much wider recognition as has been obtained by some of her less talented compatriots!


    • thanks for the kind words Maxine I am blushing and smiling at the same time. I do wish these books would get the recognition they deserve. You’d think she’d be half way to superstardom with her name alone 🙂


  2. I haven’t read any of this authors books yet but they do sound just like the kind I would love. I must check this one out. Great review 🙂


  3. Bernadette – An excellent review! Very well-done :-). I’ve become a Larsson fan myself, and one of the important reasons is Larsson’s skill at storytelling and her brilliant characterisations. You’ve outlined so well how Larsson weaves all of this together, and I’m so glad you liked this novel. And I agree completely: Rebecka Martinsson is a very well-drawn character. She is, indeed, both strong and vulnerable.


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  5. JoV says:

    With such famous last name the book certainly draw huge interest. I have been reading more crime fiction recently and I must say I am impressed with what I read and Hakan Nesser’s Woman with Birthmark left me wanting more from this author and I couldn’t get the killer’s act out of my head! 🙂
    I’m glad you like this book and I’ll see if I could read this at some point. It sounds very interesting, with the supernatural stuff on top of the crime.


  6. Kathy D. says:

    This is an excellent review of a book which is on my TBR list but now will be pushed up. I don’t think the library has it but I’ll find a way. I was moving along rapidly until I saw the “ghost” issue, which I had read about on other reviews, and which is normally a turn-off for me, even in good books. I have been known to get angry at the end of a book if it is there revealed that a ghost or a dead character was telling the story.
    However, as you explain it, I probably can deal with this and even enjoy it. I definitely like Larsson’s writing and hope that Rebecka Martinsson does not meet an end as in Books I and II, which nearly gave me PTSD.


  7. Amanda Mac says:

    You have given it a pretty impressive rating, and although I feel “badgered” enough to read it, I am a lover of Scandi crime fiction, so it will be put on my TBR list. Thanks for a great review. It will be a first Larsson for me. Looking forward to it!


  8. Maxine says:

    She started writing/publshing books well before “the other” Larsson, of course 😉 And is a very different type of author, more like Johan Theorin, working on atmosphere and superstition as well as crime plots and good chraracterisation (admittedly I have yet to encounter a fictional character anywhere quite like Lisbeth Salander, who of course is the biggest reason for the popularity of S Larsson as far as I am concerned. And the journalism/ethics themes, gives us (misplaced?) faith that someone cares about moral values…..)


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  11. Kathy D. says:

    I am reading this book now and concur that it’s the best of the four books in the series. It’s very well-written. The sense of place is terrific. The character development is, too. There’s even humor. And as I am a reader who dislikes supernatural or paranormal aspects to books, the “ghost” here is not perturbing me at all. That aspect is done well.
    This is a book I’ll be sad to leave at the end, and the two women protagonists. I’ll be eagerly awaiting the next one.


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