The Savage Altar by Åsa Larsson

The savage altar th_scandinaviamap-1 Larsson, Åsa. Original title: Solstorm (2003). Spanish title: Aurora boreal (2009) (Translated by Mayte Giménez, Pontus Sánchez) 384 p. Publisher: Seix Barral. ISBN: 978-84-322-2851-3.

This book was a Christmas present. I read it in Spanish. The Savage Altar (2007) was originally translated into English as Sun Storm (2006) in the U.S. This is Åsa Larsson’s first novel in an intended series of six of which so far four have already been published (thank you Dorte for your information). In Spain only the first two books are available as of this writing.

The action is set in the northernmost city in Sweden, Kiruna, during the seven days following to the brutal murder of a charismatic preacher Viktor Strandgard in February 17. His “eyes have been gouged out and the long hair is covereaurora Boreald in blood…There is a cut on the right of the neck, but no bleeding, and the hands are missing.” His sister Sanna discovers the body and turns to her old friend Rebecka Martinsson for support. Rebecka , a tax attorney in a Stockholm law firm, immediately returns to Kiruna, the small town she’d left in disgrace years before. And when Sanna is arrested for the murder, Rebecca feels she has to prove her innocence as well as take care of her two young girls. In trying to solve the case, Rebecka must relive the darkness she left behind in Kiruna, delve into a sordid conspiracy of deceit, and confront a killer whose motives are dark, wrenching, and impossible to guess.

Sun Storm Åsa Larsson takes a look into the influence that an intolerant and oppressive religious community exercises over its members. The suffocating atmosphere is very well described. The setting is brightly brought to life, one can even feel the cold. There are also some very well drawn characters: Rebecka Martinsson (her name pays homage to Martin Beck as it was pointed out by Alice at Mis Detectives Favorit@s), Anna-Maria Mella (a heavily pregnant police inspector) and the old neighbour Sivving Fjallborg. Maybe it is a little over-written at the end but all in all this is a stunning debut. I found it such a compelling reading that it was difficult to put it down.

Åsa Larsson (1966) is a Swedish crime-writer. Although born in Uppsala, she was raised in Kiruna. Prior to becoming a full-time writer, Larsson was a tax lawyer, a profession she also shares with the central character of her novels. The Savage Altar was shortlisted for the Duncan Lawrie International Dagger. Her second novel, The Blood Spilt, won the Best Swedish Crime Novel Award. The 2007 Swedish film Solstorm is based on The Savage Altar.

4 thoughts on “The Savage Altar by Åsa Larsson”

  1. >Jose Ignacio – Thank you for this excellent review. It seems to have some themes I really like: secrets that people are keeping, finely-drawn characters and plot twists and turns. I think I'll put this one on my TBR list.

  2. >Great review, Jose. Like you, I found this book stunning, I was quite shaken by it. I much prefer the original Swedish (also US) title of Sun Storm to the one chosen by the English publisher (The Savage Altar). I don't know how many of these have been translated into Spanish, but three have been published in English so far. The next novels will be pubilshed by a new publisher, MacLehose Press/Quercus (they will also reprint the first three, I think).

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