In Kiruna, a small town in northern Sweden, a young man is stabbed to death in a church. He'd previously died years before, but had been revived. His story received global coverage through his book and preaching and led to the three main churches in the town coming together to form a much larger entity. The victim's sister, Sanna, discovers the body and very quickly becomes the main suspect for his brutal murder. Desperate, she calls her former friend Rebecka Martinsson, who left the town and the church in disgrace years previously and is now a tax lawyer in Stockholm. Reluctantly, Martinsson returns and working with and against the local police tries to piece together what happened, at the same time discovering what had occurred in the town in her absence. What she finds is a conspiracy of silence and threats. And the nearer she edges towards the truth, the more danger she finds herself in.
The Savage Altar is the first novel by Asa Larsson and won Sweden's best first crime novel award. The book has a police procedural feel to, and it does have that side to it, but it primarily focuses on Martinsson's efforts without ever really straying into legal thriller territory. Rebecka Martinsson is a feisty character, and is easy to identify with. Indeed, the characterisation throughout the book is strong, with a good range of supporting cast and I felt the pregnant cop had a lot of potential to front her own series. The story also has a good sense of place, transporting the reader to the frozen landscape of northern Sweden. One feature of the storytelling I particularly liked was the change in perspective between characters, which could alter mid-scene as one character left. The story itself was relatively straightforward. The plot was nicely constructed, though it has no real twists (which was fine by me), andits tension points were a little flat because they were well telegraphed. Overall, a solid start to a series, which I intend to follow based on this outing.