Monday, January 30, 2017

Favourite Discoveries of 2016 (6)

Here is Lynn Harvey's favourite crime discovery of 2016:
Lynn's Favourite Discovery of 2016

My discovery of 2016 is a novel – or perhaps its writer: WOLF WINTER by Cecilia Ekbäck (pb, 2015, Hodder).

Imagine you are a woman come to a remote new country with two daughters, a few goats, a cow – and some seed for crops. Imagine mountains where you have known only marshland and lakes; new neighbours whose ways you don't know... and a husband who has to leave for a job on the coast many miles away. No, this isn’t a settler story of the Wild West. It’s 1717 in Northern Sweden, in Arctic territory newly claimed from the native, nomadic, Sami reindeer-herders.

During their first bitterly harsh winter in their new home two young girls find a man’s body in a forest glade. Everyone says that wolves killed him. But the girls’ mother, Maija, doesn't think so. Stubborn and curious, Maija is obsessed with the riddle of the man’s death but this winter is so cold that she must first concentrate on feeding herself and her daughters. As the Arctic winter sets in, the wolves start to howl and move closer to Maija’s shack of a home ... and the dead man begins to appear to her adolescent daughter Frederika.

WOLF WINTER is the first published novel of Swedish-born, Canadian resident, Cecilia Ekbäck and it is not only gripping but beautifully written. Ekbäck’s own family roots lie in the country where she sets her novel and her prose plunges us straight into its bitter winter cold. Ekbäck spells out rules for survival in this harsh land in all their necessary detail. She also gives us insight into the life of a settler community in 18th century Swedish Lapland where the Church not only records and educates individuals but makes and enforces the law. Mutual distrust between the new settlers and the native Sami (Lapp) reindeer-herders gives more room for suspense as the stubborn Maija sets out to find out who killed the man in the forest – and why. Against a background of poverty and hardship during a time of perpetual war, Ekbäck has created a blend of frontier-Western and Nordic-noir; a tense whodunit which combines the dangers of the spirit world with the privations and threats of frontier life. It is peopled by characters well-realised if not always likeable and it is an exciting, beautifully written and impressive first novel.

Deciding against creating a series based on Maija, Ekbäck has chosen Blackasen Mountain through the passage of time as her theme. This is where her second novel IN THE MONTH OF THE MIDNIGHT SUN is also set but this time during the heat and daylight of a Northern summer in 1856. I haven’t yet caught up with this novel but I certainly intend to.


susan way said...

This was a beautiful book. It comes to mind at the unlikeliest times.

susan way said...

This is a beautiful book. It keeps coming back to haunt me.