Note, the format of my Short and Sweet reviews differs in that they simply comprise the book blurb and a short response (hence, the short and sweet).
The description of Wolf Winter as a “brilliantly written and gripping historical Nordic Noir thriller with all the intrigue and atmosphere of Burial Rites, the pent-up passion of The Piano and the suspense of The Tenderness of Wolves“, was enough to pique my interest. I loved Burial Rites and The Piano … and now I have another book on my “love” list. Here’s the blurb:
There are six homesteads on Blackasen 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?
Here’s a snippet – I love this description of Autumn. It has so much more power – here in Perth, Autumn has a slow, gradual feel, one of relief more than violence:
Late Autumn this year had violence in her hair, angry crimson, orange and yellow. The trees wrestled to free themselves of their cloaks, crumpled up their old leaves and threw them straight out into the strong wind rather than just let them fall to the ground. Dry leaves ran across the yard with the crackle of fire. (p111)
The most common words I’ve seen to describe Wolf Winter are “atmospheric” and “chilling”. Both work well, for this Nordic historical-crime novel is exactly that … and more. Wolf Winter is a beautifully written book with a subtle sense of foreboding woven through the prose, creating a mixture of tension and hope throughout the narrative. The descriptive prose nails the shifting seasons, taking the reader there, shivers and all. These shivers also come from a sense of unease as secrets are revealed, suspicions are cast and winter sets in, the purity of the white snow hiding the darkness underneath.
Wolf Winter is more than an atmospheric crime read, however. It also provides detailed glimpses into the politics of the time (the novel is set in 1717), primitive living conditions, the role of the Church, the role of women, and the mistrust of lingering spiritual beliefs other than Christianity. I found all of this fascinating.
Slow-building, evocatively written and thought-provoking, Wolf Winter is a brilliant read. But don’t go expecting a feel-good, everything-works-out, action-packed or fast-paced story. It’s far from that. The beauty is in the writing, the questions that remain, and the crafting of a tale that lingers long after the fast burn of a more mainstream book fades.
Wolf Winter is available from good bookstores (RRP $29.99). My copy was courtesy of Hachette Australia.