|Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekback|
|Category: Crime (Historical)|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: 1717: two children from a remote farming community find an eviscerated human body and all hell breaks loose. Swedish noir/historical fiction combination that thrills as it enthrals.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 432||Date: February 2015|
|Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton|
|External links: Author's website|
1717: Paavo, a fisherman in Finland, develops a phobia of water which causes him to worry that he will be unable to provide for his wife Maija and daughters Frederika and Dorotea. By a stroke of luck, his Uncle Teppo fancies the life of a fisherman and so offers to exchange his land in Swedish Lapland with Paavo. Paavo and Maija readily accept but their newly adopted life isn't easy and their surroundings in the shadow of an inhospitable mountain are creepily hostile. This is enforced when the girls discover a dead man one day on their way to the goats' pasture. Word is he was killed by a bear or wolf but the fatal wound is a clean cut; the sort inflicted by a human. However, while her mother helps the local priest investigate, Frederika discovers that finding a dead body may not be the worst thing that happens to her.
TV journalists report. It's what they do and often their subject matter compels us to listen. However, there is another type of TV journalist; the type, like Fergal Keane, that compels us to listen by the way they weave words and create mind pictures. Therefore when someone like Mr Keane encourages a fellow journo to write a novel because he recognises something special in their work, it's time to sit up and take notice. Swedish debut author Cecilia Ekback is such a fellow journo and Wolf Winter is indeed hauntingly special.
From the very first pages we're in no doubt that 18th century Scandinavia is a hard, unforgiving place for those who live on nature. Yet as the family move from Finland to Swedish Lapland a further layer of hardship is added. They may have solved the dilemma of Paavo's failing health, but they've traded that for the dilemma of being an outsider in a remote rural community. This is a remote rural community with its own customs, superstitions and, it seems, its own murderer.
However, Earth Woman (midwife) Maija is made of strong stuff as she finds herself working alongside the village's bishop-bothered priest. In fact, apart from the intriguing interspersed chapters from Frederika (the daughter on the verge of adulthood and some extraordinary self-discovery) these are the people we walk alongside and by whom we're totally charmed.
Don't misunderstand me; this is no snow-covered Little House on the Prairie. This is a small community gradually forced to reveal their deepest and sometimes darkest secrets. Violence, deception and death all jump out at us from various left-of-fields as Cecilia shows us she can shock and awe with the best.
Cecilia's Swedish/Lapp descent ensures that the life of the local nomadic Lapp tribe is authentic. In fact Cecilia seasons her story telling with a lot of well-researched colour bringing in everything from the capricious King of Sweden, to the pervasive paranoid fear of witchcraft (something prevalent across Europe at that time), the scourging forays into Sweden by Russian troops and so much more.
Talking of so much more, there's much more I'd like to rave about such as Cecilia's ingenuity showing itself even in the revelation (or non-revelation) of identity but I don't want to spoil a second of it for you.
Cecilia unwittingly sums up Wolf Winter herself when she dedicates the novel to …the women of my family who don’t sleep. Well after reading it in one go yesterday, memories of Maija, the priest and a certain Scandinavian village kept me awake as I relived passages so I don't fancy their chances!
(Thank you so much Hodder & Stoughton for providing us with a copy for review.)
Further Reading: If you do enjoy historical fiction that's hauntingly memorable, we definitely recommend The Purchase by Linda Spalding.
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