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Scandinavian crime fiction has really taken off in recent years and it's wonderful that books like Savage Altar (previously published as Sun Storm) are being translated and brought to a world-wide audience. The genre as a whole specialises in claustrophobic, small-scale mysteries, often made all the more chilling because they involve relatively few people in isolated areas where either the sun don't shine or - possibly worse - the days never dim...

Savage Altar introduces Rebecka Martinsson, a young city lawyer who is dragged back to confront the ghosts of her emotional past in her rural home town when an ex-boyfriend (of sorts) is brutally murdered. Rebecka is a fragile achiever; clever but compelled to work far too hard to make up for her insecurity. She over-reacts to a friendly approach from her boss with spiky ferocity, and many of her relationships feature awkward conversations and painful silences, where old arguments and grudges confuse the protagonists.
We also meet an interesting detective, who happens to be eight months pregnant and desperately trying to go on maternity leave; Rebecka's spiritual grandfather (who is called Sivving - and there's a great joke attached to that name), the murdered man's sister (who is both not what she seems and exactly what she seems), a sinister evangelical church and its collection of overenthusiastic pastors, plus the usual pushy bureaucrat who wants the whole murder case wrapped up in no time flat.
Where Savage Altar stands head and shoulders above run of the mill thrillers is in the very human scale of the mystery and the past events which have interwoven to culminate in the death of one young man - and a very real threat to his sister (who looks like the prime suspect) and to Rebecka. Savage Altar is littered with beautifully observed interactions; often the most touching are between humans and animals where affection can be more easily expressed than with other real live people...

Savage Altar is easy to read, well plotted and beautifully described. I romped through it in a couple of days, eager to find out whodunnit (and why), but also eager to spend time with the protagonists in a starkly beautiful, dangerous landscape. If your tastes run to American-style serial-killer or police procedural thrillers then Savage Altar may not be to your taste, however; much of the menace is implied rather than related, blow by bloody blow.
I can also recommend the follow up, Blood Spilt, although you do need to read them in order to enjoy them fully. I will be looking out for more thrillers from Asa Larsson; these aren't perfect but they are more than good enough to drag me back for more.
8/10
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VINE VOICEon 6 March 2011
This novel begins dramatically, with the description of the final thoughts to go through the mind of a handsome and charismatic young preacher, Victor Strandgard, from Kiruna in the far north of Sweden. We then move to Stockholm, where we meet the novel's central character, Rebecka Martinsson, a driven and rather guarded young Stockholm lawyer. She is called back to Kiruna by her old friend, Sanna, the sister of the dead preacher, and a prime suspect in the murder enquiry.

There are really several mysteries in play here, as we turn the pages to find out, not just who killed Viktor, but what is the full story behind the highly successful church he was associated with, and why does Rebecka have such conflicting feelings about Sanna and her other former friends.

As a thriller, I thought this was good, but not great. But as a novel it had much to recommend it - intriguing and quite original characters who seemed to possess some convicingly human inconsistency and sometimes made me unsure how to respond to them - Rebecka's boss, for example. I'd certainly recommend this to anyone who enjoys the genre, and will probably go on to read more by Asa Larsson.
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on 30 October 2011
Must admit to being a fan of current Scandinavian writing, so took a chance on another unknown (to me) author in the genre.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, the writing is excellent with never a dull moment, and this is surely a high quality translation.
I really liked the sly humour that helps to bring the characters to life, and at no point felt that this book owed anything to any other author, despite the almost obligatory 'Steig Larsson' reference on the cover...
Asa Larsson's got an original style and writes brilliantly, and I'll definitely be reading everything else she's done!
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Scandinavian crime fiction has really taken off in recent years and it's wonderful that books like Savage Altar (previously published as Sun Storm) are being translated and brought to a world-wide audience. The genre as a whole specialises in claustrophobic, small-scale mysteries, often made all the more chilling because they involve relatively few people in isolated areas where either the sun don't shine or - possibly worse - the days never dim...

Savage Altar introduces Rebecka Martinsson, a young city lawyer who is dragged back to confront the ghosts of her emotional past in her rural home town when an ex-boyfriend (of sorts) is brutally murdered. Rebecka is a fragile achiever; clever but compelled to work far too hard to make up for her insecurity. She over-reacts to a friendly approach from her boss with spiky ferocity, and many of her relationships feature awkward conversations and painful silences, where old arguments and grudges confuse the protagonists.
We also meet an interesting detective, who happens to be eight months pregnant and desperately trying to go on maternity leave; Rebecka's spiritual grandfather (who is called Sivving - and there's a great joke attached to that name), the murdered man's sister (who is both not what she seems and exactly what she seems), a sinister evangelical church and its collection of overenthusiastic pastors, plus the usual pushy bureaucrat who wants the whole murder case wrapped up in no time flat.
Where Savage Altar stands head and shoulders above run of the mill thrillers is in the very human scale of the mystery and the past events which have interwoven to culminate in the death of one young man - and a very real threat to his sister (who looks like the prime suspect) and to Rebecka. Savage Altar is littered with beautifully observed interactions; often the most touching are between humans and animals where affection can be more easily expressed than with other real live people...

Savage Altar is easy to read, well plotted and beautifully described. I romped through it in a couple of days, eager to find out whodunnit (and why), but also eager to spend time with the protagonists in a starkly beautiful, dangerous landscape. If your tastes run to American-style serial-killer or police procedural thrillers then Savage Altar may not be to your taste, however; much of the menace is implied rather than related, blow by bloody blow.
I can also recommend the follow up, Blood Spilt, although you do need to read them in order to enjoy them fully. I will be looking out for more thrillers from Asa Larsson; these aren't perfect but they are more than good enough to drag me back for more.
8/10
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 11 December 2010
A mutilated body is found in a church in northern Sweden - and a lawyer is brought back to the place she once lived and her past amongst the leaders of the church.

This is a competent enough read with a tighter plotline than those of writers like Stieg Larsson and Jo Nesbo. However many of the elements have been done repeatedly in other crime novels making this definitely feel less than fresh.

The beginning is very strong, but the rest of the book doesn't manage to avoid crime cliché (sexual shenanigans and religious obsession) culminating in the final showdown as the police rush to arrest the culprit...

This isn't a bad read by any means but is far from original.
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on 10 May 2015
I love Nordic Noir and thoroughly enjoyed this telling of a scandinavian tale. A good story wrapped in an intensely northern atmosphere. Well worth reading. Furthermore, it has got me hooked on the Rebecka Martinsson series
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on 16 March 2016
I didn't get a third of the way through this before I was thinking Karin Slaughter and Mo Hayder. This is not in the same league with any of the classy Scandinavian writers. The characters are dire, God is hard work and I'm gutted I spent cash money for it. How this got four or five stars is beyond me. I didn't finish it
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on 28 December 2014
This is the first in a very good series featuring lawyer Rebecka Martinsson. Despite being settled in Stockholm, she reluctantly goes back to her home town when an old friend is accused of the murder of a charismatic preacher.

Even though I've read a later book in the series and knew something about the events in this one, I still found it gripping. There aren't too many surprises in the plot but this is more than balanced by the vivid characterisation and descriptions of a frozen landscape. Asa Larsson is an accomplished writer and I particularly like the way in which Rebecka comes to understand the truth about people she has known for a long time.
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VINE VOICEon 21 September 2013
This is the first Asa Larsson book that I have read, and I will be reading more. It is a book of extremes. The story takes place in the far north of Sweden in the depth of winter, and the dark, cold atmosphere is created faithfully. It begins with a gruesome killing (of course), then takes us on a tour of some very unlikeable characters before reaching its explosive conclusion. The writing and translation, particularly when it comes to the dialogue, are natural and flowing, making the book a compelling page turner. The characters are believable; even the good ones - including the woman who turns out to be the heroine - have their weaknesses and unattractive aspects, and the bad ones are thoroughly bad. The fact that the characters are so real - they have families and children and dogs - makes the horror and menace all the more palpable. As far as the plot of this book goes, all ends are tied up satisfactorily, though there is enough unfinished business in the lives of the protagonists to leave the reader wanting to know more about them. Thus the way is paved for a series of stories. One minor drawback is that the point of view changes frequently, so we are initially left unsure as to who the hero/heroine really is; is it the lawyer or the police woman? Possibly both, but it is difficult to see how they can feature together in a follow-up story. But this is a minor criticism that does not merit the deduction of a star; this is a five star book.
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on 12 May 2013
Please do check other reviews for this author, she is NOT linked to Seig Larrson of 'the girl who....' fame, and is absolutely NOT in his league. That said, I stuck with this book and ended up liking it more than I had expected. It lacks the finesse, pace and believability of Jo Nesbo or Steig Larrson, but is an 'ok' read.
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