Book Review

Review – To Cook A Bear by Mikael Niemi


Jussi, the young Sami boy Læstadius has rescued from destitution and abuse, becomes the preacher’s faithful disciple on long botanical treks to explore the flora and fauna. Læstadius also teaches him to read and write – and to love and fear God. 

When a milkmaid goes missing deep in the forest, the locals suspect a predatory bear is at large. A second girl is attacked, and the sheriff is quick to offer a reward for the bear’s capture. Using early forensics and daguerreotype, Læstadius and Jussi find clues that point to a far worse killer on the loose, even as they are unaware of the evil closing in around them. 

To Cook a Bear explores how communities turn inwards, how superstition can turn to violence, and how the power of language can be transformative in a richly fascinating mystery.

My Review:

I was drawn to the title in the first place, To Cook A Bear, what is this about? When I saw the synopsis and I was like, oh yep, I need to

read this! It sounded fantastic!

To Cook A Bear is a historical crime novel set in 1850 in the northest part of Sweden. It told the story about how two very uniqued (sometimes odd) and eccentric characters solved the local murder mystery. Jussi, who has runaway from home after years of being abused and neglected by his parents; and a revivalist pastor Laestadius, who has taken Jussi in as his Sami boy and treated him like a son.

What I love about this novel:

1.This is so much more than just a crime novel. It touches upon community life (the good and the very very bad), philosophy, botany, very early form of forensic reviews for murder investigation, coming of age, first love, loneness, resilience and so on. It is such a rich and complex novel that it will leave you with a lot to think about.

2.I think the author and the translator has done an amazing job creating an atmosphere of rural, remote and chilling Sweden. The unfriendliness of the local people to Jussi, the easy suspicious of each other, the brutality of the natural environment have added so much depth and danger to the story telling. It feels like it is the third main character of the story.

3.I love how the novel use the investigation as a mean for us to get to know more about Jussi and how quickly we develop sympathy and have compassion towards him. It was moving at times and a tear might have been shed while I was reading it…

This was a very different crime novel than what I used to read. It was rich and compelling. There were some very gruesome scenes of killing animals in the book as a warning! But if you want to read a very different crime and murder mystery then I highly recommend this one!

Again, I am so in love with reading translated lit this year. It just opens my eyes to so many more amazing writes and stories that we don’t necessarily know or have heard of. I love every single book MacLehose Press published and will aim to read all their books!

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