After the roaring success of Hannah Kent’s Burial Rights in 2014, I’ve been gagging for another ‘proper’ Historical Scandi Noir. Wolf Winter, the debut of Cecelia Ekback, does not disappoint. Harrowing and cold, whilst also beautifully written, weaving danger throughout. Wolf Winter is comparable to The Tenderness of Wolves, and will no doubt be just as successful and popular, in that is mingles traditional beliefs and customs with a proper murder mystery. What this book does better that T of W, however, is keep the suspense going whilst introducing further twists and characters.
It is the year 1717, and Maija and her family have moved from the shores of Finland to the mountainous forests of Swedish Lapland. On their first day, her daughters, the delightful Dorotea and sensitive mystic Frederika, find the body of a local settler. He has been ripped open. Neighbors say it must have been wolves, but Maija thinks otherwise.
Drawn into this story are those others who live on the mountain and the semi-deserted town in the valley below. Characters such as ex-soldier Gustav, who appears to be suffering for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which was obviously unknown of at the time, Nils, aristocrat by birth, using mountain living as a tax-evasion measure, and the local Priest, who has been recently removed from the services of his beloved King, and has his own secrets to hide. Then, as winter starts to close around the mountain they see the arrival of the Lapps, and their reindeer, who have only very recently burnt their spirit drums and converted to Christianity. The whole of Swedish society at the time is laid out to us, and it is absolutely fascinating, and very well played, to see them brought together in such harsh conditions as they experience together over the course of this winter.
The murder plays along in the background as a constant worry and fear, but the weather itself is the biggest enemy. I cannot imagine why one would choose to live in such as place, where you often cannot leave your shack for the snow. This book makes you feel the wind creaking round the chimney, and shows how ridiculously vulnerable mankind is compared to the might of nature. As well as the weather, there is a more general fear; fear of change, or difference of the other. Maija, as a woman alone for most of the book, is seen as such a threat, and yet has such obvious power and intelligence. She is a great creation and I loved reading through her eyes, and through the eyes of the priest, who is a complicated and well-rounded man in a changing world he has no control over. The priest’s story, to be honest, was my favourite, especially since it went in such a completely different direction to the one I thought.
Less well-rounded is the story of her daughter Frederika, another voice in the book that represents spirituality and the ties between nature and the human mind. Parts of the book are slightly over-long, and Frederika’s story would make a whole other book!
I LOVED Wolf Winter, though it really is quite harrowing in parts. It is going to be huge, and rightly so, this is a cover you better get used to seeing. I’d also keep an eye out for it on the various longlists coming up. The sort of book you wish for, read it now, whilst the weather is still grim, and really take advantage of the atmosphere she has created.