KIN by Snorri Kristjansson

March 1, 2018

Everyone loves a family reunion.

He 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 . .

Lies. Manipulation. Murder. There’s nothing quite like family . . .

Historical crime is one of my favourite sub-genres. Over the last few years I’ve read a fair number of books that have fallen into this category and without exception they have been great. The latest title to add to this ever-growing list is KIN by Snorri Kristjansson. The premise is devilishly simple, a murder-mystery set in a remote Viking homestead.

Unnthor Reginsson’s brood are a suitably shifty bunch. He has four children, three sons and a daughter. It’s made pretty clear that each one of them are trouble. All four have secrets and you quickly discover that any one of them is capable of murder. The brothers Karl and Bjorn both have a foul temper and are happy to use their fists to resolve problems. Unnthor’s daughter, Jorunn, is manipulative and sneaky while the final son, Aslak, is two-faced and sly. Truly they are a delightful family. Each child has travelled home to visit their parents bringing their own families with them. Needless to say, this extended group also includes some thoroughly unpleasant individuals.

Though she is considered part of the family, Helga Finnsdottir is still viewed in some respects as an outsider. In this scenario, this makes her a near perfect detective. She may be young, perhaps even a little naïve, but she is driven by a burning curiosity. Helga is also all but invisible to lots of the visitors. Undoubtedly a handy skill to have when she needs to watch others. Not being a direct member of the family offers Helga the opportunity to view everything with a certain amount of detachment. She can be far more analytical with her observations and less sentimental. I particularly liked that the narrative has moments that capture Helga’s inner dialogue. She is still developing her investigative skills you see flashes of that throughout the text.

While reading I kept thinking the book reminded me of something I’d read before and eventually, after much pondering, I figured it out. KIN is like vintage Agatha Christie, makes sense as the novel is essentially a whodunit. There is the wonderfully isolated location, dastardly deeds done under the cover of darkness and just about every single character is a potential suspect. There are even trusty family retainers who may or may not be involved in the crime. The key difference between Kristjansson and Christie, time period aside, is that KIN is a far more emotive affair. Kristjansson knows full well that any family will bicker, fight and make up whenever they get together. He uses these inevitable squabbles as the jumping off point for his story. The author ensures there is more than enough sibling rivalry around to guarantee someone is going to meet a grisly end eventually. Any one of the family could be the guilty party. The only person who is able to remain objective is our heroine. Watching Helga trying to uncover the culprit by unpicking all the deceit is riveting stuff. The only tools she has at her disposal is her keen attention to detail and quick wits.

If you’re a fan of crime fiction and enjoy a bit of added history, then I would suggest you look no further than KIN. When it comes to murder you want to be kept guessing right up till the last and KIN does that and more. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and hope Helga will return for further investigation in the future (or past, depending on your point of view).

I’ve read a fair bit of Viking related fiction of the last few years and without a shadow of a doubt the best musical accompaniment is Wardruna. This Nordic collective focus on creating authentic folk music using traditional instruments of the time period. Their album Runaljod – gap var Ginnunga perfectly captures the tone you’ll find in Kristjansson’s writing. Talk about atmospheric.

KIN is published by Jo Fletcher Books and is available from 8th March. Highly recommended.

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