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Until Thy Wrath Be Past by Asa Larsson



Highlights: All the delicious talk of lingonberries & cloudberries-- I was in Newfoundland last week while reading this novel, one of the only places in Canada where they grow, and eating some toast with cloudberry jam while reading really helped me pretend I was there!



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Very well written, lyrical and haunting--appropriate for the dark, cold beauty of the novel's setting.


While it's not necessarily a bad thing, the novel is more of a whydunnit than a whodunnit, and everyone is fairly certain of the killer's identity early on as the novel shifts into a psychological examination of his motives with an extensive backstory.

Posted April 1, 2013 by

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I’ve been having Lisbeth Salander withdrawals lately, so I went to the library determined to find something even a little bit as good as The Millenium Trilogy. Since, unfortunately, there is no “Swedish Crime” section, I decided to check if there were other mystery novels next to Stieg Larsson’s. A long shot, but I found Until Thy Wrath Be Past, by Swedish author, Asa Larsson. And it was a really great piece of crime fiction! Although much different from the action-packed, righteous anger of Millenium, the quiet, haunting story in Until Thy Wrath Be Past is definitely no less complex.

Asa Larsson won the Swedish Crime Writers’ Association prize for best debut novel in 2003. Her second novel won Best Swedish Crime Novel of 2004. Until Thy Wrath Be Past,  translated in 2011 by Laurie Thompson, is the fourth novel in her Rebecka Martinsson series (so I was a little behind in her back story, but am I ever intrigued!)

Summary/Plot:  The body of a missing young girl, Wilma Persson, is found under the ice  in the River Torne. When Rebecka Martinsson begins investigating, with the help of Police Inspector Anna-Marie Mella and apparitions of Wilma, she realizes there is a whole lot more to the story. The murders date back generations, tangled up in the secrets of locals’ collaboration with the Germans in World War II. With such a large burden of shame, the killer becomes desperate, trying to bury Martinsson herself under the ice with the secrets of the past.

It takes skill to weave together the continuation of Martinsson’s personal story with Wilma’s murder and the bigger picture of the locals helping Germany in the war. It involves a lot of flashbacks and in-depth psychological profiling of characters. It can sometimes feel a bit overwhelming, but for the most part all of the pieces are sewn together remarkably well.

Writing: The prose is beautiful and spot on in echoing the cold, haunting atmosphere of the ominous snow-covered landscape. The devices, however, can feel contrived.

For instance, the “voice of the murder victim” trope didn’t always work for me. I liked how the novel opened with it before we had any idea what happened; it added some flair to the mystery. However, it was a bit overused and overdone. It can feel like a cheap way to give readers information that the police don’t have. The ghost-voice can be done in a way that somehow still seems believable; that is when the supernatural is the most effective-and the most eerie. In Until Thy Wrath Be Past, the depiction of Wilma’s ghost would go too far, turning into a bird and flying away. Scenes like that were jarring and made it hard to maintain any semblance of believability. What saves the device is that the character of Wilma, even as a ghost, gets fully developed.

Also, there is a lot of biblical language and references in the novel, and they too can feel a bit heavy-handed at times. There are moments when Larsson really lays it on with the verses and themes of redemption, but the title’s reference to Job 14 is very apt. Reading the passage after you figure out who it refers to (I won’t give it away!) is startling and poignant and really emphasizes the many layers she gives to the character.

Characters: Larsson digs deep into her characters, for the most part. The portraits she paints of Anna-Marie Mella, Wilma’s grandmother, Martinsson, and one of Wilma’s killers are incredibly complex.

My main issue with characterization is that it felt a bit unbalanced. The two characters who are most involved in Wilma’s murder are portrayed in very different ways. One of them gets a psychological analysis to not only surprise us and flip our perception of him completely around, but also to explain (even justify) his motives. The other gets none of this and, like most of the others involved, gets written off as pure evil. For someone so dedicated to creating unique and remarkable characters, it is a bit unsatisfying to only get it half of the time.

One of the most interesting characters in the novel for me, though, was the Swedish landscape. I know it sounds a little strange, but the gorgeous wintery setting was personified so much it almost felt like a character, and it even had a voice:

“The snow lay over the river like a whisper of nature. Hush, it said, be quiet. There is only you and me now.”

Bottom Line: Even though there are some writing devices that are a bit heavy handed, and there is no big whodunnit reveal, Until Thy Wrath Be Past still manages to shock readers by changing their perception of a villain and delving deep into his soul. The prose is lovely and evocative of the beautiful but ominous landscape. Much like the river ice that plays such an important role in the story, the writing is a smooth, quiet surface that hides a turbulent current of piercing dark water.

Have you read any of the Rebecka Martinsson series? Which one is your favorite?




Maritime gal friday with two degrees in literature and a love of magic realism, typography, and poetry in all its forms. Check out all my articles.


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