I read Cecilia Ekbäck’s first book, Wolf Winter, a few months ago and really enjoyed the way she evoked both place and season. I was thrown into the dark and snow of a Swedish winter in the early 1700s. In her new book the place, a dark brooding mountain called Blackåsen, still figures as a central character, but this time it is mid-summer and the sun hardly sets. It is hard to imagine what twenty-two hours of sunlight everyday will do to your brain, but you can be sure that it will start to play tricks, especially if you cannot get any sleep. In this latest novel the mountain sets the mood, brooding over the landscape and village, but now we have jumped forwards to the 1850s.
A number of murders have been committed, three men killed on a single night in the vicarage. The killer, it seems, was a Lapp, one of the nomadic reindeer herders from the north. But he sat with the bodies and made no attempt to escape. Magnus Stille, an administrator with the Board of Mines, is sent to Blackåsen Village to find out what really happened and also to look at the mountain, thought to be rich in deposits of iron. He wants to make maps of the minerals but his father-in-law has given him an extra burden. Magnus must take his wife’s younger sister, Lovisa, with him as a punishment to her. Her father has thrown her out of his home.
So this unlikely duo set out for the North where they will encounter the remote village, which can only be reached on foot, the strange collection of people that live there, and elements of paganism that linger among the Lapps. Add to this the unrelenting sunlight and the very strained relationship between Magnus and Lovisa and things are bound to become interesting.
Ekbäck does a great job creating mystery and tension among a small population, suspicious of the arrival of outsiders. The change of narrator between different characters and even the voice of the spirit world, allows us the revel in the many themes that unfold. Nobody seems willing to tell Magnus the whole truth and more people will die before we really understand the motivation behind the recent events and killings.
In the Month of the Midnight Sun is a very satisfying read, and I think compares very favourably with the first book with Blackåsen at its heart. Even in the middle of summer the mountain retains its bleak character, its mystery and its unspoken dangers. I like the way that the mountain acts as a character in the book and how it influences the people that live on its slopes. Some of the residents you instinctively mistrust, while others grow on you and eventually shift from being suspicious into trusted characters. Even the troubled Lovisa begins to come good in the end.