by Ellen Kuhfeld
In the days of old, life could be cheap. Death, however, could be very expensive.
What if, in the middle ages, North America had been settled by Europeans? The Americas would have developed very differently. Settlers from an eleventh-century Europe would have been on a relatively even footing with the local people, whom the Norse called Skraelings. We could end up with an Anglo-French empire along the Mississippi up to the head of navigation at Saint Anthony Falls. North of that would be Norse, settling on the Iron Range; and north of the Norse, Finns. Large areas of North America would still belong to the Skraelings. Traders would travel about, by land and by river, as traders always have. At trade fairs, men and women of different lands, laws, and customs would come together. As always, jackals would gather to prey upon them …
“There is one problem. And here he comes, at this very moment.”
Yes, Thorolf Pike was trouble. Declared an outlaw and exiled from his home, he had come from Surtsheim, where his fellow Norsemen lived, to Northlanding, where English settlers lived. Now he was dead, by an unknown hand. Who killed him? And, should the murderer be judged by English law, or by Norse law, for the crime of secret murder?
Secret Murder is an intriguing historical novel of passion and turbulent life, of murder and a kind of justice. The story is rife with all the trappings of a time of story-tellers, traveling bards, Vikings and native peoples who wandered the earth, a time before printing presses and cell phones. In exciting fashion author Ellen Kuhfeld suggests the possibility of a westward penetration into the new continent long before Columbus, before the Spaniards or the Portuguese came to the “new world.” Never mind there is scant reliable evidence of Finns or Norse or white Christians ever penetrating to the middle of North America before the sixteenth century. Be that as it may, had they come, here’s an enthralling story of how it might have been. – Carl Brookins, author of the mystery novels Devil’s Island, Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, and Red Sky
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It’s a murder mystery set in an outpost of medieval Europe, which just happens to be in Minnesota. (In the novel’s world, Europeans settled in North America long before 1492 and now trade through the Great Lakes and along the Mississippi, both with Native Americans and other settlers.) An overbearing Viking is murdered at a trade fair, where Scandinavian merchants from Northern Minnesota meet to trade with English and French merchants from farther south. The chief suspect is an old enemy of the Viking, a tough as nails and likable merchant named Ragnar Forkbeard. The bailiff for the local baron is trying to solve the crime, before the fair breaks up and the killer can get away. Ragnar is trying to solve the crime, before he is arrested for it. In the course of the two investigations, we are introduced to medieval trading, religion, courtship, friendship, poetry and ethics. I could not find a false note anywhere. Kuhfeld’s Vikings ring true. LIke the saga heroes, they are tough, honorable, violent and funny. His English characters are equally interesting and plausible. I enjoyed the midwestern landscape and trying to identify the locations I know now. (Milltown by the Great Falls has to be Minneapolis by St. Anthony Falls. Lakesend has to be Duluth.) The mystery kept me guessing. Its solution was satisfactory. There are two Viking funerals, one of them outstanding, and a quiet romance. What else can a reasonable person ask for? I recommend the book to anyone who is interested in Vikings, medieval Europe or a good, old fashioned, Minnesota murder mystery. – Eleanor Arnason , author of A Woman of the Iron People, winner of the James Tiptree Jr. Award and Mythopoeic Society Award; and Ring of Swords, winner of the Minnesota Book Award.
Midwest Book Review
November 2011 Small Press Bookwatch
The Mystery/Suspense Shelf
PO Box 1363, Minnetonka, MN 55345-0363
9780982523285, $15.95, www.ftlpublications.com
Before forensics, the truth had to be found through determination. “Secret Murder” is an alternative historical novel, set in a world where the Europeans settled North America much sooner than 1492. When murder is afoot in a Minnesota trading outpost, Ellen Kuhfeld blends this unique world into a fascinating read that will prove hard to put down. “Secret Murder” is an excellent pick for both historical fiction and fantasy collections, very much recommended reading.