When she discovers the mutilated body of the revivalist preacher and her brother, Viktor, laid out in ritualistic style, on the floor of The Source of All Our Strength church, Sanna turns to her old friend Rebecka Martinsson for support. Despite her demanding work schedule as a Tax lawyer in a large law practice in Stockholm, and her reservations about her own past in connection with the church, Rebecka heads back to the small town and community to help.
The chief prosecutor on the case seems to have already decided that Sanna is guilty and she is charged after vital evidence is found hidden in her home. Rebecka reluctantly finds herself trying to provide legal and emotional support to the emotionally fragile Sanna as well as care for her friend's two daughters and keep everyone safe. Inspector Anna-Maria Mella shares Rebecka's doubts over Sanna's guilt and despite her own very advanced pregnancy, stays working on the case right up to the birth of her own baby.
There's a very dark, subdued aura hanging over SUN STORM. The setting is freezing, snowed-in small-town Sweden. The atmosphere around the church is equally dark and foreboding. The relationship between Rebecka and Sanna is difficult, each has some past baggage of joint and separate experience of the church, Sanna's family and personal events which tore them apart and turned Rebecka into an outcast from the community years ago.
The interesting thing about SUN STORM is the strength of the writing and the story being told. The two central characters, Sanna and Rebecka are equally unsympathetic, almost unlikeable. Despite that, they are engaging and you are kept reading to find out the truth of what is really going on. The atmosphere is oppressive, sad, everyone seems to be damaged, troubled, unhappy or questioning, and yet the reader is pulled through the story. As a card carrying member of the "dead people: fine, harmed animals: bad" sector of crime fiction fans, even the albeit brief and off-camera fate of an engaging pet dog, whilst shocking, is probably more distressing because of the reactions of the central characters.
An intriguing and ambiguous ending is the perfect finish for a story in which characters are living lives that are real, complicated, challenging and raw. Highly recommended for readers who like their fiction to challenge them, make them think and don't mind the story staying with them way after the book itself has gone.
THE MAN WHO WENT UP IN SMOKE - Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo
A journalist has vanished without a trace in Budapest. When Martin Beck arrives in the city to investigate, he is drawn into an Eastern European underworld in search of a man nobody knows. What he discovers will put his life at risk.
Swedish Detective Inspector Martin Beck is a master of human nature and relentless in his pursuit of criminals. The Man Who Went Up in Smoke is the second in the Martin Beck series.
I'm still dipping into this reprint series from Harper Perennial with a profound sense of gratitude for the fact that they are bringing these fabulous books back to our attention. Originally copyrighted in 1966 THE MAN WHO WENT UP IN SMOKE sees the only time Wahloo and Sjowall take Martin way outside his comfort zone - to Budapest to investigate the disappearance of a Swedish journalist - he seems to have literally gone up in smoke!
Martin is called back from a family holiday - sort of - well not quite - grudgingly to work on this task in the heights of the European summer - in a country he's never been to before; with a local police force that doesn't really know why he's there; in the height and strangeness of another culture; in an Eastern European underworld that doesn't make sense. And he has to do this in an era before fax machines, before mobile telephones, before email - just an infrequent scratchy telephone call back home to try to find some details about who the missing man is in the first place.
In classic Sjowall/ Wahloo style Martin wanders his way around the problem, doing a little, thinking a lot and seeing more than anybody realises to find, firstly what on earth this journalist was up to and finally where he ended up.
In this edition, Val McDermid wrote the forward and, as is the way with this series, these forwards provide a valuable insight into just how wide the influence of this Swedish pair of writers has been - just to quote one small part of the excellent introduction:
"Discovering dedicated mystery booksellers was a bit like going to heaven without having to die first. There were so many crime writers whose books were available in the US only - ironically, some of them British - and in those pre-Internet days, the only apparent way to acquire them was physically to go there and buy them. Which I did. In industrial quantities. Among the books in the holdall were ten paperbacks in the black livery of Vintage Press. They comrpised a decalogue of crime novels written by the Swedish husband-wife team of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo. They'd been on my must-read list since I'd read about them in Julian Symonds' definitive overview of the genre, Bloody Murder. "
Val's introduction is as worth reading as the book itself.