The right book can instantly transport you to anywhere — and anytime — in the world. Every Thursday, we recommend one of our favorite books with a strong sense of place so you can see the sights, meet remarkable people, go on exciting adventures, and feel big feelings. Bonus: You don't even have to put on pants.
This post is part of our 'Weekend Getaway' series.
The summer solstice this year is on Saturday, 20 June, in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s the longest period of daylight during the whole year, and closer to the north pole, the sun never goes to bed. Since prehistory, this day with no night has been marked with festivals and rituals.
In Sweden, the setting for Black River, the Midsommar festivities include dancing around a pole decorated with greenery and flowers, eating traditional Swedish food, playing games, and toasting with plenty of beer, schnapps, and aquavit. Why not? If you’ve survived the bleak, dark, frigid Swedish winter, you deserve to celebrate the midnight sun.
When the story of Black River begins, intrepid reporter Tuva Moodyson has been living in southern Sweden for four months, far away from her dark past in the forests and secrets of northern Gavrik. Then she receives shocking news that shakes her new and tremulous foundation: her best friend Tammy is missing.
Tuva rushes back to the place she definitely doesn’t want to be — at the height of Midsommar celebrations — to help lead the search for her lost friend. But it seems that someone else doesn’t want Tammy to be found; the search effort is routinely, cruelly sabotaged. And thanks to the bright light of the longest day of the year, day and night blend into one long, surreal horror.
Tuva’s investigation takes her to Snake River, a sinister backwater surrounded by a deep woods that’s as foreboding as it is impenetrable. It’s a place of secrets and hidden desires and questions better left unasked, but Tuva is nothing if not relentless. As she gets closer to the truth of Tammy’s disappearance, she also circles closer to what could become her demise.
While Midsommar revels swirl around her — with food and maypoles and aquavit and life — Tuva is trapped in her feelings of fear and regret as Tammy’s whereabouts remain unknown. Tuva slowly realizes, perhaps too late, that the things she needs the most might have been in Gavrik all along.
Rich with atmosphere and a setting that’s a character in itself, this is a twisty, suspense novel that ratchets up the tension until its stunning, satisfying conclusion.
For more on this book, listen to our podcast episode Sweden: So Happy, So Murdery.
Will has an active YouTube channel where he talks about the writing life and shares videos of his woods and his St. Bernard Bernie. In this video, he addresses the topic of creativity and shares very satisfactory dog and cat sightings.
Utgard forest is overwhelming. Bigger than ever. Dark and summer-full; undergrowth exploding outward and upward, brambles and nettles creeping out from the forest fringes. I drive for fifteen minutes, and Utgard forest is the constant shade on the right-hand side of the road. I pass the narrow entrance to Mossen village — nothing good’s ever come out of that place — and I drive on. — Will Dean
This mystery thriller (384 pages) was published in March of 2020 by Point Blank. The book takes you to rural Sweden during Midsommar. Melissa read Black River and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.
Top image courtesy of Oscar Nord/Unsplash.
Want to keep up with our book-related adventures? Sign up for our newsletter!
Strong Sense of Place is a website and podcast dedicated to literary travel and books we love. Reading good books increases empathy. Empathy is good for all of us and the amazing world we inhabit.
If you like the work we do, you can help support us through our Patreon! That'll unlock additional content, too — like Mel's recipe for Banh Mi Bowls, and Dave's behind-the-scenes notes for the latest Two Truths and a Lie.
This is a weekly email. If you'd like a quick alert whenever we update our blog, subscribe here.
We'll share enough detail to help you decide if a book is for you, but we'll never ruin plot twists or give away the ending.
This 30-page Reading Atlas takes you around the world with dozens of excellent books and gorgeous travel photos. Get your free copy when you subscribe to our newsletter.
Content on this site is © 2021 by Smudge Publishing, unless otherwise noted. Peace be with you, person who reads the small type.