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Saturday 9 September 2023

‘The Sins of Our Fathers’ by Åsa Larsson

Published by Quercus,
30 March 2023.
ISBN: 978-0-85705174-5 (HB)

The Sins of Our Fathers is the sixth and final novel in Larsson’s Arctic Murders series. Admirably translated from the Swedish by Frank Perry, it has won a number of prizes including the Swedish Crime Writers’ Academy Best Novel of the Year.

It starts with Ragnhild Pekkari postponing her elaborately planned suicide after she receives a phone call telling her of concerns about her brother who lives alone on a remote island, who hasn’t been seen for three weeks and who isn’t answering the phone. Ragnhild has not had any contact with the alcoholic Henry for over 30 years and is initially more worried about his dog. With difficulty she gets to his home and finds him dead. Further investigations in the house reveal a body in a freezer which is identified as a man who disappeared without trace in 1962, the father of Swedish Olympic boxing champion Börje Ström. Terminally ill forensic pathologist Lars Pohjanen asks District Prosecutor Rebecka Martinsson to investigate the murder of Ström’s father even though it has passed the statute of limitations. She is not keen, particularly as she has a poor professional relationship with the acting chief prosecutor, but when the post-mortem confirms that Henry Pekkari was also murdered, she relents. Could the two killings be related, even when so long apart?

Martinsson’s attitude towards Henry’s murder and her progress in its investigation is complicated by the fact that her mother was fostered by the same Pekkari family. This is just one of a number of tensions between characters in the novel, in either families or the police, which keeps us on our toes. There is also the repressively religious Uncle Hilding and an equally repressive church. The plot is dominated by two strands. Kiruna, where the police are based, is a city that is being gradually rebuilt away from the dangers of subsidence caused by extensive mining and which is a hotbed of organised crime and company fraud. The arctic winter and problems caused by the snow and ice add to the bleakness of the setting (noir indeed). The other strand, Börje Ström’s life story, is told in flashbacks in the present tense (I enjoyed the revelation that he has a conscience despite his involvement in such a violent sport). There is the added complication of Martinsson’s troubled personal and professional relationships increasing her desire to return to her old job as a lawyer in Stockholm.

All these things mean that the novel is never less than interesting, and parts of the action are intense, although there were occasions when I wished that the narrative pushed on more quickly (at over 600 pages it is a long book). For me the story rather peters out; we don’t know what happens to some of the villains and most matters appear concluded in good time, even if there is a relatively gentle twist towards the end. The burgeoning relationship between Ragnhild and Börje Ström is left nicely, and we remain unsure about Martinsson’s future. I am aware, however, that my view of the conclusion may be because I have not read any of the previous novels in the series. For those who have, I imagine The Sins of Our Fathers will bring the Arctic Murders to a satisfying conclusion.
Reviewer: David Whittle

Åsa Larsson was born in Kiruna, Sweden, in 1966. She studied in Uppsala and lived for some years in Stockholm but now prefers the rural life with her husband, two children, and several chickens. A former tax lawyer, she now writes full-time and is the author of Sun Storm, winner of Sweden's Best First Crime Novel Award.


David Whittle is firstly a musician (he is an organist and was Director of Music at Leicester Grammar School for over 30 years) but has always enjoyed crime fiction. This led him to write a biography of the composer Bruce Montgomery who is better known to lovers of crime fiction as Edmund Crispin, about whom he gives talks now and then. He is currently convenor of the Midlands Chapter of the Crime Writers’ Association.

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