The Hidden Child, By Camilla L&#228;ckberg<br />Until Thy Wrath Be Past, By Asa Larsson

Barry Forshaw
Thursday 29 September 2011 13:01

Those who read Scandinavian crime fiction have not been surprised at the revelations of violent neo-Nazi movements in the Nordic countries. This subculture has been laceratingly exposed by several writers, and the recent tragedy in Norway finds echoes in novels by two of the best female writers in Sweden, Camilla Läckberg and Asa Larsson. Both books were, of course, written before the killings, but now carry a retrospective chill.

"Political issues have a way of forcing themselves into one's work," Läckberg has said. She is inspired by British crime writers such as Ruth Rendell, and comparisons may be drawn between Britain and Sweden: an implication (for instance) that a lack of joined-up thinking is just as endemic in Swedish policing as in the British system.

In The Hidden Child (translated by Tiina Nunnally), Erica Falck is writing a new crime novel, but has made a significant discovery: her mother's diary from the war, along with a Nazi medal and a T-shirt stained with blood. She consults a local historian, but then the elderly scholar is savagely murdered in a house he shares with his brother, who is tracking Nazi war criminals. Does the killing have anything to do with a burgeoning neo-Nazi movement? And what did the dead man know about the country's clandestine wartime activities? Läckberg handles the alternation between the present and the 1940s with steely skill, as she does the dangerous investigation into secrets from Sweden's past.

Asa Larsson is a markedly different writer, with notably cooler prose, and unlike her multimillion-selling namesake, Stieg. In Until Thy Wrath Be Past, corporate lawyer Rebecka Martinsson is working as a prosecutor in Kiruna when the spring thaw reveals the body of a woman in the river. Rebecka's sleep has been troubled by a threatening spectre: what do these dreams have to do with the dead woman? Rebecka becomes part of an investigation into the disappearance of a plane carrying supplies for the wartime Wehrmacht, but there are those who believe that aspects of the country's past must remain hidden – among them, a ruthless killer. The novel shows that Larsson is ready to confront unpalatable truths. Among the current batch of Nordic writers, the new Larsson is one to be followed with the most minute attention.

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