There is something terribly wrong at the iron mine at Blackåsen, in rural Sweden. There are hints of the wrongness in a brief scene early in The Historians, by Cecilia Ekbäck, when a Sámi woman disappears. It will take the rest of the novel to find out what’s really going on at Blackåsen, when the deep dark secret is eventually unraveled by the tenacious Laura Dahlgren and Jens Regnell, who follow clues through old college friendships, government archives, and interviews with paranoid Swedes. This book is a slow burn, however, which may frustrate some readers.
Laura works at an office job in Stockholm, but we don’t spend much time there. After three rapid-fire prologues that set the tone for this wartime mystery, we see Laura dispatched to Uppsala to find her old friend Britta, who has recently dropped off the radar. Laura finds Britta brutally murdered on the Uppsala University campus. Britta’s apartment has been ransacked, too, leading Laura to believe that Britta was killed for something she’d discovered. Laura’s baffled about what that might be until she meets the other protagonist, Jens Regnell. Jens is a secretary to the Foreign Minister. It sounds impressive but he has surprisingly little power when strange things start to happen around the office. Records are disappearing and one document, Britta’s thesis, inexplicably appears on his desk one day. It takes a while for Laura and Jens to meet each other and, for the most part, they follow separate paths toward the secret that cost Britta her life.
Other chapters, narrated by characters in Blackåsen or set back in Britta and Laura’s college days, slowly provide clues as to what the hell is going on. Mystery readers who want a fast plot might get frustrated at the slow pace for much of the book but readers who want lots of character development and/or richly detailed historical settings, however, may enjoy The Historians. My favorite parts of this book were the moments when Ekbäck shared details about life in World War II-era Sweden. I also enjoyed the forthright Laura. I do love a woman who stands up for the right thing when everyone around her is telling her not to worry her pretty little head.