Written by Snorri Kristjansson — So, what sort of crime fiction do you like? Nordic noir? Domestic noir? Historical? One of the good things about Kin is that it’s a murder mystery set among a Viking family the 10th century, and in addition it wraps in an engaging coming-of-age story as well.
Mostly, we see the world through the eyes of the teenager Helga Finnsdottir, the adopted daughter of Hildigunnur and Unnthor Reginsson. Helga works in their kitchen and on the farm, having lost her own parents as a child. There’s plenty to do as a feast is being planned for Unnthor’s biological children, who are returning for a reunion on the Riverside homestead.
Author Snorri Kristjansson orchestrates everything like it were a Golden Age mystery, except this one isn’t set a on country estate but in a Viking longhouse. Unnthor’s children are challenging to say the least. Helga has to keep her wits about her, with eldest son Karl giving her leery looks. His brother Bjorn is big, loud and as strong as an ox but hasn’t been a-viking and so isn’t technically a warrior. Manipulative daughter Jorunn is lithe and has a tongue on her, and the youngest, Aslak, well… who knows what he’s thinking most of the time?
Each has their partner in tow, and everyone except Jorunn has brought their children too. Let the petty family squabbles commence, only it turns out they’re not so petty. Some of the guests want to know more about the plunder Unnthor is rumoured to have buried somewhere on the farm, and in between horns of ale and ladles of Hildigunnar’s lamb stew the troll-like patriarch is pressured as to its location.
The set-up is extensive as the many nasty and nice dimensions of the characters are demonstrated. With all the spouses, children and farm workers, there are plenty of them but it’s not too hard to keep track. The trouble is, we don’t really get down to the nitty gritty of the mystery for 100 pages or so, when Karl is eventually found murdered in his bed. He’s been bled out in a rather gruesome way, demonstrating some expertise. Soon another guest is dead and the farm is on lockdown.
At first bewildered, Helga sticks close to Hildigunnar, learning from her mother all the time about how to deal with this extraordinary situation. This relationship is one of the charms of the novel.
What you’ll discover reading Kin is how practical the Norse people were in many ways. Their life and their customs are plain and honest, but we see in flashes what motivates them, such as when Kristjansson describes Unnthor’s mighty arm ring, the symbol of his stature. What’s interesting is the contradiction between their down to earth way of life and their beliefs. When it comes to solving the murders, rather than looking for actual evidence, many of the characters are in favour of asking the gods. The gods, apparently, are happy to accuse a young boy.
It’s then that Helga realises she’s on her own. Unable to completely trust anyone else on the farm, but not wanting the young lad put to death, she finds her own way to reveal the guilty party. As she enacts her plan you’ll tear through the pages to get to the bottom of the suspense. It’s great. Her thoughts as the novel wraps up are that she needs to leave the farm and, indeed, a sequel is on the way.
More recent Scandinavian history is explored in Kjell Ola Dahl’s The Courier or you could try a mystery set in Ancient Rome such as The Third Nero by Lindsey Davis. For crime in many eras, click here.
Jo Fletcher Books
CFL Rating: 4 Stars