Review of Embers by Ewan Lawrie

“Keep it simple, keep it true”.

This is exactly what Josephine Greenland does with her YA detective novel. Make no mistake, there are heavy themes addressed in this book, from the suppression of native or (ab-)original cultures to how a family does -or doesn’t – deal with a neuro-diverse family member, depending on the individual doing the dealing.

However, this is a page-turner of a book. Just before hitting my teens, I used to read all the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries in the local library, wherever in the world I happened to be: Embers has something of those books in its DNA, but is so much better than they ever were.

The plot revolves around the ritual slaughter of Sami-reared reindeer. Ellen,17 and Simon, 14 (and-x months and y days according to when he’s asked) take a trip to their father’s ancestral homeland in the far north of Sweden, partly to escape the difficult atmosphere at home in Stockholm. Simon, who is an avid fan of whodunnits, where the answer can be worked out from clues, inveigles his sister into investigating the crime with him. I’m not going to say any more for fear of spoiling the resolution. This book is a whodunnit too, after all.

The Sami-mysticism, culture and the discrimination is smoothly woven in and out of the plot: no patchwork exposition here. The exploitation of migrant workers – with a key part themselves in the events which take place – may come as a shock to those of us (me) who have always held Sweden up as an exemplar of tolerance and social democracy.

A terrific and informative read, with a Scandi-Noir-ish backdrop, this book should be in school libraries.