The Black Path by Åsa Larsson

Translated from the Swedish by Marlaine Delargy

A book synopsis on the back or inside cover is there to entice the reader inside, to titillate and excite. That enticement for The Black Path, Åsa Larsson’s latest murder/mystery describes the tale of a beautiful young unknown woman whose tortured body is found in an ice-house on a lake in the north of Sweden. The truth of the story and its telling is far more interesting.
Larsson does an excellent job of creating and defining her characters, both protagonists and antagonists alike, and it is the actions of those characters that lead to the events that precipitate the murder and mayhem. The characters are what make this novel literature and far more than a standard whodunit.

The novel has the feel of Thorton Wilder’s Bridge of San Luis Rey where five unrelated travelers die on a collapsed bridge and a monk who sees the disaster traces the lives of those five people and how they were destined to be on that bridge. In Larsson’s capable hands, she shows us her collection of characters: the Swedish industrialist from a deprived and loveless childhood, a semi-incestuous upper-crust brother and sister, a lawyer back to the wars after suffering a nervous breakdown, a detective, a mother of three, with a ruthless streak, and perhaps most interesting, a young artist who defines her Black Path as a run over complicated terrain made over and over, blindfolded, until it is letter perfect.

The gathering of these story threads at the confrontational ending has more of the characteristics of a thriller than a murder/mystery, yet it manages to be both surprising and consistent with the story. The untidy lives of the major characters leaves a plethora of loose ends yet the rough justice of the novel is completely satisfying.

This is a modern novel in every sense of the word: multiple story lines, multiple points of view, tense shifts. For a reader there is only a single question: does it work? The answer is a resounding Yes. This is another piece of writing that reminds us that there is a body of fine literature to be found outside of our own boundaries.

The Black Path is the third book in a series by Larsson. He first novel, Sun Storm, won Sweden’s Best First Crime Novel award and The Blood Spilt was awarded Sweden’s Best Crime Novel prize.

Copyright 2009 by Toby Heaton

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