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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Can’t Wait Wednesday : Kin (The Helga Finnsdottir #1) by Snorri Kristjansson

Can't Wait Wednesday

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that was originally created by Breaking the Spine.  Unfortunately Breaking the Spine are no longer hosting so I’m now linking my posts up to Wishful Endings Can’t Wait Wednesday. Don’t forget to stop over, link up and check out what books everyone else is waiting for.  If you want to take part, basically, every Wednesday, we highlight a book that we’re really looking forward to.  This week my book is: Kin (The Helga Finnsdottir #1) by Snorri Kristjansson

kinHe can deny it all he likes, but everyone knows Viking warlord Unnthor Reginsson brought home a great chest of gold when he retired from the longboats and settled down with Hildigunnur in a remote valley. Now, in the summer of 970, adopted daughter Helga is awaiting the arrival of her unknown siblings: dark, dangerous Karl, lithe, clever Jorunn, gentle Aslak, henpecked by his shrewish wife, and the giant Bjorn, made bitter by Volund, his idiot son.

And they’re coming with darkness in their hearts.

The siblings gather, bad blood simmers and old feuds resurface as Unnthor’s heirs make their moves on the old man’s treasure – until one morning Helga is awakened by screams. Blood has been shed: kin has been slain.

No one confesses, but all the clues point to one person – who cannot possibly be the murderer, at least in Helga’s eyes. But if she’s going to save the innocent from the axe and prevent more bloodshed, she’s got to solve the mystery – fast . . .

Due to be published March 8th 2018