Under the Snow in Northern Sweden

‘Under the Snow’ by Kerstin Ekman Translated by Joan Tate

I first heard of writer Kerstin Ekman when her latest book “God’s Mercy’ was selected one of last year’s best by the Internet site Pop Matters. Pop Matters is pretty much my bible when it comes to music, and their description of the book sounded promising. I couldn’t get that novel but did find Ekman’s 1961 novel ‘Under the Snow’. Only after I already had the book, did I find out that Kerstin Ekman is a crime writer, a writer of murder mysteries. I usually don’t read genre fiction with one exception. That exception is Ruth Rendell aka Barbara Vine whose books are so well-written I don’t consider them genre fiction. By the time that I discovered Kerstin Ekman is a mystery writer, I was interested enough to read the book.

Kerstin Ekman lives in a small village in northern Sweden. The novel ‘Under the Snow’ takes place up there near the Arctic Circle. Many of the people in this far northern area and in the novel are Samis, whom we used to call Laplanders or Lapps which are now considered derogatory terms, so from now on, I will use the term Sami.

‘Under the Snow’ has a unique rhythm that you won’t find in other books. The rhythm slows you down and has a definite small town charm all its own. The crime solvers here are a humorous pair, a by-the-book policeman whose regular police job is north of the Arctic Circle and a let’s say eccentric friend of the murder victim, David Malm. There is a lot of humor about drinking coffee, and I know from experience in small towns in northern Wisconsin during winter that coffee drinking is the center of social activity until night time when the party moves to the small bars.

The Samis are not completely integrated into Swedish society, and their participation in certain mystical rites gives “Under the Snow” a distinctiveness. The ending of the novel takes place in a long-deserted Sami village Poropirtti. I read elsewhere that Kerstin Ekman in her later novels deals with the underlying tensions between the Swedish people and the Samis, but in this novel everyone who lives in this small town gets along fine playing mah-jongg, etc., except for that little thing the murder.

Ekman wrote this book quite early in here career almost fifty years ago, and except for the unique style and the Sami mysticism, the novel is pretty much a standard murder mystery. I think the next time I read an Ekman novel, I’ll read either ‘Blackwater’ or ‘God’s Mercy’, her more recent novels. According to other Internet sources, she has moved somewhat away from genre fiction.


One response to this post.

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