Kin (The Helga Finnsdottir #1) by Snorri Kristjansson

kinI thoroughly enjoyed Kin and thought it made a great start to what I’m presuming will become a murder mystery series featuring Helga Finnsdottir.  This is a murder mystery with a difference.  Set in Norway during the summertime of 970 this is a book with vikings.  But, calm your passions, the murders committed on the page don’t occur whilst plundering villages or out on the open seas.  Far from it.  The murders here are committed in the quiet of the homestead, with only family around, and virtually everyone is a suspect.

I’m not going to go into the plot because being a murder mystery it would be easy to spoil the outcome.  What I would say immediately is that I was completely swept away with this book.  I read it in one day because I couldn’t put it down.  It was a compelling read with a stark-like simplicity that was completely beguiling.

As the book begins we are introduced to Unnthor and Hildigunner and the other inhabitants of their homestead.  The farm itself is basically a longhouse, a few outbuildings, some animals and a small woodland.  This is a hard but honest existence, the days are filled with chores but there’s a clear happiness to the small family unit and their simple way of life.  Helga is the adopted daughter and Einar and his father complete the group.  However, the quiet simplicity of their lives is about to be transformed with the arrival of the rest of the family.  Unnthor has invited his children and their families back home for a meet.  You could be forgiven for thinking this would be a happy occasion and in some respects it is and yet there is an underlying current of tension that belies the excited expectations of such a gathering.

Unthor and Hildi have four children all now living away from home.  Three sons and a daughter. Karl has a streak of danger running through him.  He’s something of a brute and the sort of man who takes what he wants.  He’s no stranger to raids and the easy pickings they represent have given him an arrogant air of expectation.  His brother Bjorn is a positive giant of a man, he and Karl don’t get on and yet Bjorn has a certain quiet gentleness that makes him feel less of a threat than his brother.  Aslak is the third son, he doesn’t share the brute strength of his brothers, he’s more brains than brawn and his expectations lie more in the desire for a happy home.  Finally we have Jorunn.  She’s a clever woman.  Competitive and ambitious.  The four families descend on the farm, each of them with their own agenda and none of it bodes well, particularly given the rumours that their father is sitting on his own treasure hoard.  And then, of course, there is murder most foul and the inevitable realisation that the murderer is amongst them.  You can imagine how quickly the air becomes thick with fear and suspicion.  Finger pointing and bickering swiftly ensue but along with that a much more deadly threat.

It’s difficult to pin down what it is about this that really won me over.  Everything I suppose. The writing is clean and efficient, it does just what it needs to do with no unnecessary flourishes.  Everything is laid out with ease, the family dynamics and the lifestyles they all lead,  I felt like I knew the people.  Unnthor and Hildi are a formidable partnership.  They’ve raised their family with respect and fear and yet there’s almost a feeling of wolves waiting quietly to strike.  Unnthor’s strength is maybe not what it once was and although Hildi is a force to be reckoned with could it be that her children are becoming almost as sharp?  It almost has a feeling that they’re looking over their shoulders all the time.  What a horrible feeling knowing that your family seem to be waiting for you to weaken.

The place itself is really easy to picture.  There’s a breathtaking beauty about it, wide open skies and barren landscapes. And then we have a murder mystery.  Now, given the time period this is clearly not a police procedural style novel.  There’ll be no threat of prisons, or police called in to look for clues –  just brutal retribution for the murderer if discovered.  I think the really winning element of this for me is the unexpected way it turned into a whodunnit.  Don’t get me wrong, the writing style, the settings, the people the way of life – this isn’t Murder on the Orient Express – but it does have something in common in the way the story twists about until everyone has become a real suspect.  Basically my expectations were exceeded.  I was jumping about from person to person, suspecting all of them and only really making the discovery when the author intended me to do so.

In terms of criticisms.  They’re not really criticisms here so much as things that I would point out so that you go into the story forewarned.  It took me a little while to get all the family members and their respective partners and children straight in my own head but once I’d sorted them all out that wasn’t a problem – I would say it’s worth taking a few minutes to really figure out who’s who – otherwise the whole mystery element will be spoiled by the constant need to keep thinking back about how everyone is related.  Basically I took notes as I was going along – you might not need to resort to such means but I found it helped me to group everyone into their respective family knots.  There’s very little fantasy involved in the story – in fact the only element is the appearance of one of the Norse gods – and this could almost be whitewashed over as a flight or fancy on the part of Helga.  Did it really happen or did she just imagine it.  I suspect that Helga may have somebody watching over her and this may become more apparent in future books.  The lack of fantasy was clearly not a problem in my opinion but I point it out as the books I read usually have more swords and sorcery than not so I want to set expectations straight from the outset.  Finally, in spite of the era depicted this is told in a modern style.  Personally I loved this as I don’t want to struggle too much trying to make sense of olde worlde figures of speech and phraseology.  If you’re something of a history buff or are looking for a much more faithful depiction of the times then this might not be for you.  As it is, I loved the style, I felt like I got a really good look into the way of life without it becoming a work of art or over bearing to read.

I would definitely have no hesitation in recommending this and I look forward to seeing where Helga’s adventures lead us to next.

I received a copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

 

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21 Responses to “Kin (The Helga Finnsdottir #1) by Snorri Kristjansson”

  1. Tammy

    Great review, I’m so interested in reading this sometime. I love intimate murder mysteries that are focused on characters rather than action.

    • @lynnsbooks

      Definitely the focus is very small here being set on a remote homestead and with only the family and a few extras involved.
      Lynn 😀

  2. Lit Lens

    That sounds like a really interesting setting for a murder mystery! Great review

  3. Barb (boxermommyreads)

    Wow, glad to see you really enjoyed this one. I’ll have to see if my library will get a copy because I don’t see me buying one but I’d really like to at least try it!

    • @lynnsbooks

      It was really good. I loved the setting and the stark simplicity and then a whodunnit with such a small cast of characters who could all equally be suspects. Who expected that from a viking book.
      Lynn 😀

  4. Lisa (@TenaciousReader)

    Glad you enjoyed this! Wonder if it will get a US release ever

    • @lynnsbooks

      I hadn’t realised that this wasn’t going to be released in the US – I’m sure it will eventually make it’s way over there.
      Lynn 😀

  5. sjhigbee

    I do love the sound of this one, Lynn. Right now I’m absolutely stacked out with books – but this one is going on the ever-growing list:). Many thanks for a storming review.

    • @lynnsbooks

      I really liked this – there was something about the writing that matched the story. It was starkly beautiful in a way. And I loved the murder mystery element which simply relied on Helga sneaking about and observing people.
      Lynn 😀

      • sjhigbee

        It sounds fantastic – I’ve put it on my list… Thank you for cracking review. I think…

      • @lynnsbooks

        I hope you enjoy it.
        Lynn 😀

  6. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    You make me want to cry, Lynn, because this book sounds amazing and yet I have no business adding any more books to my already full reading plate! GAH! Maybe it’s a good thing this book isn’t out in the US yet (at least I can’t seem to find a product page on US Amazon) so I won’t be tempted 😀

    • @lynnsbooks

      Haha – yeah, I’ve seen your book hauls – they make me want to cry tbh! This was very good, I think you’ll like it but maybe by the time it comes out in the US you’ll have time to slot it in.
      Lynn 😀

  7. Greg

    What an awesome review. I need this book! A Viking murder mystery set in 970? Sold! It’s funny too about the modern writing style- I had th same thing with a recent book I read that was set in prehistoric times, of all places, and yet they talked in a modern way, using terms like kitchens and so forth. It threw me a bit, but once I got past it and just enjoyed the story it was quite good. Sounds like maybe the same thing here.

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yeah, I mean, I’m not sure how realistic any of the historical elements were – I found it easy to place myself and have a vision of the setting. I don’t imagine the dialogue is authentic – but, it’s not completely modern, they’re not using slang for example, just it’s very easy to read, I didn’t find it jarring because it’s well done.
      Lynn 😀

  8. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    Murder mysteries in a closed environment are the best, but this sounds much better than the usual train or cruise ship or whatever mystery writers have thought up in decades past, because this novel also promises a glimpse into a society I know little or nothing about, and that would add to the enjoyment of the story.
    Moreover, hearing that Kin even exceeded your expectations is some endorsement, indeed: I have no idea how to fit it in my reading schedule, but fit it I will!
    Thank you so much for sharing this 🙂

    • @lynnsbooks

      I hope you enjoy it. I thought it was great and I would definitely like to read more.
      Lynn 😀

  9. jessicabookworm

    After reading your thoughts Lynn, I am even more excited about reading this now. 😀

  10. Books and travelling with Lynn

    […] Kin by Snorri Kristjansson – Vikings and a murder mystery with a hint of Norse Gods.  This has a rather stark cover and the setting itself is similar but it just transported me more than I ever expected. […]

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