The Heroine’s Journey in Rebecka Martinsson

From the day Rebecka Martinsson ( Ida Engvoll ) receives news of an old friend’s death, her life is transformed. It’s a life to envy, it would seem, with the best of everything within reach if not yet entirely hers—she’s already the object of unstinting, if not outright blind, devotion of a highly desirable man. A work-driven lawyer considered a star of her Stockholm law firm, she’s come a long way from the small-town world of her childhood in Northern Sweden, to which she now reluctantly returns. It’s there that she learns that the dear friend reportedly killed in an accident was in fact murdered, and where the first of these spine-chilling mysteries begins. All (they come with subtitles) are based on the novels of Asa Larsson, a busy tax lawyer herself before settling into a career as a popular crime novelist.

Intent on finding the killer who ended the life of her old friend and protector, Rebecka effectively abandons her job at the law firm for detective work. It will be her role throughout this eight-part series—a heroine fearless in her pursuit of answers and also an emotionally vulnerable one in ways that define her character. Put another way, in a television world now awash in female coppers there aren’t many as interesting and human as Rebecka. That will be clear when the first case concludes with a sudden horrific act of violence—precisely the sort of thing to expect from a murder mystery.

But this act has something of the unbearable about it, which says much about the skill of the writing here, about characters so vividly created that the snuffing out of their lives can’t be borne. There’s not another scene like it in the rest of the series, but the script, and performances, shine throughout, as does the arctic background, both beautiful and menacing. It’s therefore no surprise when a search for bodies in a lake dredges up a Nazi warplane, its huge black swastika looming up as it’s pulled from the waters. With it comes all necessary material leading to a hunt for a former Nazi collaborator, with a quietly intrusive Rebecka on the case.