Well, we’ve made it to the halfway point. The Crime Fiction Alphabet community meme has arrived at the Hotel M, our thirteenth stop on this perilous journey. Thanks to our tour guide Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise, we’re all safe. For the moment, that is. The hotel bar opens soon, so before I go downstairs for a drink let me share my contribution for this week: Åsa Larsson’s Anna-Maria Mella.
Mella is a police inspector in the northern Swedish town of Kiruna. She’s a dedicated strong cop and that’s one of the very appealing aspects of her character. She cares about doing a good job and she’s willing to do the hard work the job requires. She’s also got quite a lot of courage. For example, in Until Thy Wrath Be Past, she investigates the murders of Wilma Persson and Persson’s boyfriend Simon Kyrø, who were killed while they were diving near the wreckage of a World War II-era plane that went down in Lake Vittangijärvi. Two of the people Mella talks to regarding the case are locals who have the reputation of being thugs. Although she’s very sensibly nervous about dealing with them she does so anyway and doesn’t back down even when one of them sabotages her car.
And yet Mella also has a sympathetic side. In The Blood Spilt, she’s officially on maternity leave but can’t resist getting involved in the case of the murder of a local priest Mildred Nilsson. That’s how she works for the second time with attorney Rebecka Martinsson, who’s originally from Kiruna and has returned there to help sort out the legalities of turning Nilsson’s home back over to the Swedish Church. When last they met (in The Savage Altar (AKA Sun Storm)) Martinsson had an extremely traumatic experience, and Mella has sympathy for her. At one point in The Blood Spilt Martinsson gives an important clue to Mella, who thanks her. Here’s what happens next:
“‘You did the right thing,’ said Anna-Maria. ‘You do know that?’
It was difficult to know whether she was talking about what had happened two years ago in Jiekajärvi, or if she meant the photocopies and letters in the plastic bag.”
There are other incidents in Larsson’s series too where Mella reaches out to victims and others affected by crime. She has a caring side but at the same time she’s not mawkish.
Mella is also a loving wife and mother. She minds it very much that she can’t spend more time with her children and it is to Larsson’s credit that her family loves her too. There are of course stresses and strains on Mella’s family life. Both she and her husband Robert have busy careers and they are flawed humans. So they don’t always get on perfectly. But overall it’s a solid family and Mella is a loving member of it. In fact, in Until Thy Wrath Be Past, one of the things that fires Mella into action more than anything else is that her telephone is stolen and used to lure her daughter Jenny to an unsafe spot. No, Jenny isn’t really involved in the murders, nor is she hurt. Larsson doesn’t fall into that too-easy trap. But the incident frightens Mella and shows her fierce devotion to her children. Mella’s genuine love of her children and her husband, even when the family is under stress, is a refreshing departure from the all-too-common scenario of the cop who alienates everyone in the family and can’t have a good home life.
Mella is passionate and that’s an appealing aspect of her character. That passion also sometimes makes her prone to act first and think later. In The Black Path, for instance, she and her partner Sven-Erik Stålnacke are called in when the body of Inna Wattrang is discovered in an ice-hunting shelter. Wattrang was the Information Officer for Kallis Mining so Mella and Stålnacke investigate Wattrang’s personal life and her past as well as her company dealings. In the end we see how those two threads come together in the explanation for her murder. At one point, Mella takes an extremely dangerous decision although Stålnacke warns her more than once not to do so. Although neither of them is killed, that decision has negative consequences and Stålnacke isn’t exactly quick to forgive Mella. Mella’s way of acting on her own and not always thinking of the consequences isn’t her most positive trait. But in its own way it makes her appealing. It gives her a human dimension that makes her more accessible to readers.
Mella’s had to work hard and earn the respect of her work-mates. She knows too that it’s harder on her because she’s a woman. More than her male colleagues, Mella has to balance the demands of home, work and personal time. Mella has also had to work harder than her male colleagues to earn the sometimes grudging co-operation of witnesses and suspects. In a few places in this series she acknowledges that her male colleagues have it easier in some ways. It doesn’t help matters either that she’s petite. Trust me. But that said she’s by no means a bitter man-hater. She’s a strong and capable cop who just happens to be female rather than a woman with a strictly feminist agenda, or a woman who resents the fact that she’s female. It’s to Larsson’s credit that Mella’s skill as a cop is more important to the functioning of her team than anything else.
Anna-Maria Mella is a strong hard-working cop who’s also a caring and loving mother and wife. That’s never an easy balance to strike but she manages it. She’s passionate about her job and she’s got the courage that often goes with that passion. Hmmm… a petite, strong-minded female protagonist who also has a compassionate side. Are you really surprised that I chose her for this week’s stop? In all seriousness, if I got in trouble in Norrland and a snowmobile came along to the rescue, I know I’d be OK if Anna-Maria Mella were driving it.