THE SAGA OF THE NEXT BOOK

It has taken some time, but Chief Inspector Anita Sundström’s next outing is under way.  There have been various distractions since we moved house and area over the last year, which have hampered the progress of the next book.  It doesn’t help that I’m easily distracted.  However, Anita is back in action, and the seeds of the story begin in Viking times.

With my own Norse background, I’ve always been fascinated by the Vikings.  In Britain we think of them as the Norwegians and Danes who raided our shores before deciding it was a rather good place to stay.  Among them were my MacLeod ancestors, who eventually settled on the Isle of Skye via the Isle of Man.  The Viking story of western migration is a staple of British history.  What we are mostly ignorant of is the movement of the Swedish Norsemen and those in what is now Skåne, which was part of Denmark at that time.  They headed in the opposite direction – they went a-Viking east.

They were quite remarkable.  They headed down the rivers of what is modern Russia and Ukraine.  They helped create the city of Kiev and are believed to be responsible for the name ‘Rus’ (the word for ‘rowers’) who were later to become Russians.  The Kievan Rus were a mixture of Scandinavians and Slavs.  It’s because of the Kievan Rus, Putin seems to think that Ukrainians and Russians are the same people.

The great benefit to the Swedes was the trade that flowed in both directions from Scandinavia to Constantinople (known to the Vikings as Miklagård) and the Middle East as far as Baghdad.  Slaves, furs, skins, walrus-tusk ivory, honey and beeswax headed south – spices, silks, glass, silver, gold and slaves came north.  This made the strategically located island of Gotland in the middle of the Baltic a rich trading centre.  Another place to cash in from the eastern trade route was Birka, a small island in Lake Mälaren which is two hours by boat inland from Stockholm.  We went there this summer and were taken on a tour of the island by a formidable man in Viking dress.  That’s what archaeologists do when they haven’t got digs to go to!  He turned out to be very affable and knowledgeable.

Another aspect of Scandinavia’s eastern connection was the famed Varangian Guard.  These brutal Norsemen, mainly Swedes initially, protected the Emperor of Byzantium in Constantinople.  The choice of Vikings was deliberate – they lacked local political loyalties and could be trusted to put down revolts by those Byzantine factions trying to destabilise the empire.  They were handsomely rewarded for their fierce loyalty and unmatched fighting skills, and many returned to their homeland as rich men.

It’s this background that forms the basis of my next Anita Sundström investigation.  It’s been an interesting exercise marrying the Byzantine Vikings with murder in modern Sweden.  Myth in Malmö should come out late 2024.

In the meantime, I hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas and that the New Year will see a calmer world, particularly in the east.