Council by Snorri Kristjansson

May 10, 2019

Please note, Council is the second book in an ongoing series. If you have not read Kin then it is likely that what follows may contain some minor spoilers. Consider yourself duly warned.

Helga Finnsdottir left her foster parents, the old Viking chieftain Unnthor Reginson and his knowing wife Hildigunnur, to see the world, but she stopped in Uppsala when she fell in love. Now she’s established herself as a local healer and herb-woman on the outskirts of town, and life is good – until King Eirik the Victorious calls a trade council and hairy northerners and southern Swedes alike descend on the town.

Unfortunately for Helga, one delegation is headed by a very determined young woman who has her own agenda and will let nothing – and no one – get in her way. But the last time Helga saw Jorunn Unthorsdottir, her foster-sister was being cast out by their father for killing their brother Bjorn and trying to pin the blame on Helga.

So perhaps it’s no great surprise when one of the delegates is murdered, or that Helga’s soon tagged as the lead suspect. It doesn’t take her long to clear her own name, but that only leads suspicion to fall on to her man.

Once again, Helga must solve a murder, and fast, before the innocent pays with his head.

Back in 2018, I read Kin by Snorri Kristjansson. I really enjoy the sub-genre of historical crime fiction, and Kin is a particularly good example. Lacking all the technology available today, historic detectives are reliant on the most basic of skills. The fundamentals of crime investigation remain the same irrespective of time period. The who, what, why, where and when are always going to lie at the heart of the matter. Setting a murder mystery during the Viking era worked well, so I was glad when I heard Helga Finnsdottir has returned for another tale.

Council picks up not long after the events of book one. There is a nice sense of evolution to Helga’s character in the time that has passed. She has become more certain of her abilities, and since leaving home she is a little wiser in the ways of the world. Helga has continued to hone her abilities and she has a growing confidence in what she is capable of. Coupled with her new knowledge as a healer and herbalist, she makes her an ideal detective. The natural tenacity she has exhibited in the past, in tandem with keen observational skills, also stand her in good stead. As a woman, Helga is often ignored by the ignorant menfolk, but she has learned to use this discourtesy to her advantage. She knows how to become all but invisible in larger gatherings. Anonymity has become an ally and allows her a freedom that many of her kinsman can never have.

Helga finds she must tread a delicate path during the course of her investigations. People are immediately suspicious of anything they don’t understand. Any peace is hard fought, and the various clans tend to be insular in nature. Even when they come together to meet and trade, the threat of violence hangs heavy in the air. Old rivalries and blood feuds have a tendency to reignite at a moment’s notice.

There are subtle nods to Nordic mythology and religion throughout. How much you wish to read into that element of the story is entirely up to you. I suspect different readers will take different interpretations of some content. I can think of one scene in particular where a character’s actions can certainly be described as enigmatic. I’ll be honest, I know it may drive some readers to distraction, but I think a bit of ambiguity can be a good thing. If you choose to look for the hand of the Norse gods and goddesses in this novel, I think you’ll find it. If that’s not your thing, then you won’t.

Council is entirely serviceable as a story in its own right, but if you get the opportunity, I would strongly advise reading its predecessor beforehand. The first novel in the series goes a long way in fleshing out Helga’s character and the world she inhabits.

Fans of Kin are bound to enjoy Council. Kristjansson has an evocative style that is easy to get caught up in. If you’ve not already discovered these books, and you enjoy your crime fiction historic in nature, I heartily recommend checking them out.

Selecting the ideal soundtrack to accompany Council is relatively straightforward when you have access to Spotify. There is a plethora of wonderfully atmospheric music that fits the time period perfectly. I selected Hringras by Danheim*. There is little better when it comes to setting an appropriate tone for my reading than a good piece of music.

Council is published by Jo Fletcher Books and is available from 16th May. It’s a worthy successor to Kin. I look forward to finding out where Helga’s journey will take her next.

*Danheim are a Nordic folk/Viking inspired project from Copenhagen. Told you they were a perfect fit.

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