Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekback
Published by Hodder & Stoughton
12th February 2015
There are six homesteads on Blackåsen Mountain.
A day's journey away lies the empty town. It comes to life just once, in winter, when the Church summons her people through the snows. Then, even the oldest enemies will gather.
But now it is summer, and new settlers are come.
It is their two young daughters who find the dead man, not half an hour's walk from their cottage.
The father is away. And whether stubborn, or stupid, or scared for her girls, the mother will not let it rest.
To the wife who is not concerned when her husband does not come home for three days; to the man who laughs when he hears his brother is dead; to the priest who doesn't care; she asks and asks her questions, digging at the secrets of the mountain.
They say a wolf made those wounds. But what wild animal cuts a body so clean?
I've finally finished reading Wolf Winter. I say, finally, because I've actually been reading it since February which for me is a rather long time to still be on one book. However, it isn't because Wolf Winter isn't a good read, for it is. It's partly because I don't have as much reading time as usual, but also because this is a book to read slowly and savour. Set in 1717, Cecilia Ekback takes us to Sweden, to the Blackåsen Mountain region, where just six homesteads are inhabited. New arrivals Paavo and Maija, and their daughters Frederika and Dorotea have just arrived, having been left the homestead by a relative. They are looking forward to their new life, until shortly after their arrival, Frederika discovers the corpse of a man. Was he killed by a wolf, as others ascertain, or as Maija suspects, by another man?
This is a murder mystery in part, but it is also a novel of survival, and of learning who you can and cannot trust, particularly in a community where belief in God is sceptical for some, and belief in another power, namely that of the mountain, is rife. We spend most of our time with Maija and Frederika as they go about their daily tasks, but also with Olaus Arosander the priest, sent to bring the Church to these settlers. To begin with I felt no empathy for the priest; his uncaring attitude made me not warm to him at all, but towards the end of the book, I actually began to like him as a character. Alone, with her children to raise and protect, Maija does all she can to survive without Paavo, who is absent for most of the story. I liked her grit and determination, particularly during the incredibly harsh winter scenes that Cecilia Ekback creates. You can feel the wilderness whilst reading Wolf Winter, it is a novel for which location is key, particularly when in the shadow of Blackåsen Mountain.
In such a small community, who you can trust plays a large part, and here, no one really knows who to trust, and even the dead themselves aren't revealing anything either. I'm certainly looking forward to more from this author.