CANMORE – Canmore boasts an impressive and prolific list of published authors as local residents, including Cecilia Eckbäck.
Eckbäck published her third novel in November, The Historians, with Harper Collins Canada, a followup to her first two novels The Midnight Sun and Wolf Winter.
All three novels present a murder mystery for readers to puzzle over. The stories are set in Sweden and feature a fictional mountain called Blackåsen as one of the cast of characters involved in each tale of intrigue.
Eckbäck said each book examines a different era in time, with the common thread being the mountain itself. The Midnight Sun was set in 1717, while Wolf Winter took place in 1856. The Historians would move forward in time to the 20th Century and the experiences of a group of friends living in Sweden in 1943.
"I knew I wanted to do something in the early 1900s when the iron industry really kicked up in Sweden," she said. "But I was apprehensive about doing something during the Second World War.
"As I started reading about the Second World War, I thought that not a lot has been done about the Nordic countries."
Originally from Sweden, Eckbäck began to focus in on the Scandinavian experience leading up to and during that war. There were different circumstances, based on the country.
Norway and Denmark, for example, were occupied by German forces. Norway fought back, whereas the Danes accepted defeat. Sweden attempted to remain neutral to events unfolding in Europe at the time, but allowed Germany access to its iron resources and use of its railway to supply its forces.
Finland, on the other hand, initially fought with the Nazis against the Soviet Union.
Her research of this era and these different perspectives based on nationality got her thinking – what if it was a group of friends that had these experiences and acted out the conflicts experienced by the Scandinavian nation states.
That is how the mystery within The Historians begins to unfold. It centres around a group of young adults with different nationalities and backgrounds, who became friends at university, but are now out living separate lives during the war.
Blackåsen is located in Lapland, a region of Sweden that the Indigenous people, the Sami, also call home. The Sami play an important role in the novels as well, living at the intersection between modern and traditional ways of life.
Lapland is also where Eckbäck's family is from. When she first started writing fiction, she began exploring the history of the region, which fascinated her, along with how it affected the relationships within her family.
A central theme that has emerged from her work has been an examination of how the landscape shapes the people who live with it on a daily basis.
"I was interested in this, and still am, in how much does place impact people who live there," Eckbäck said. "I sort of have been touring with this place as a character – what would it be like and what would bring to bear on those poor inhabitants who live there."
For The Historians, Blackåsen is the site of a mine, where workers extract much-needed iron ore to support the German war effort. But something else is happening in the background, something nobody will openly talk about and the main characters must work to uncover.
In The Historians, the main character Laura Dahlgren must reconcile herself between the friends she thought she knew in university with the people she encounters in her present life as she works to unravel a mystery.
Laura and her group of friends are made of characters that Eckbäck drew inspiration from her own past to create. The best friend Britta and Laura, for example, were both inspired by friends from Eckbäck's days at university.
Another main character, Jens Regnell, secretary to the minister of foreign affairs, must also grapple with circumstances that are not what they appear to be.
Jens and Laura struggle with the effects of the geo-political conflicts playing out in Europe in the early 1940s. But they soon learn, their own countries have skeletons in the closet someone is willing to kill to protect.
Soon a web of intrigue and conspiracy begins to be unveiled through the dogged perseverance of the main characters to get to the bottom of the mystery.
While history has documented in great detail the atrocities and race-based ideology that was supported in Nazi Germany, it may not have captured for many that eugenics and race-based thinking was also common in countries like Sweden at the time.
A fictional novel, The Historians includes details about Sweden's State Institute for Racial Biology, formed in 1922, that pulls the curtain back on how this ideology was not limited to Germany alone.
Eckbäck said for Sweden at the time, it was about choosing the lesser of two evils and the USSR, from that country's perspective, was a greater enemy than Germany. People accepted things they never thought they would, leading Eckbäck to the question of when would someone say "stop."
The parallels to what has been happening in the United States and to some extent Canada, are not lost on the author.
"It has tested us," Eckbäck said. "What we have seen being acted out next door and it is scary because I think people are much more willing to go with it than I thought they would be."
Eckbäck, her Canadian husband and twin daughters, have lived in Canmore for five years. They moved to the Bow Valley after relocating to Canada from London, England.
She is currently working on the fourth novel in the series. Her next novel set for publication, however, is about two boys who form a friendship in the period between the first and second world wars.
The Historians has sold better than her first two novels and Eckbäck said she has been busier than ever as an author during the pandemic. Book readings and events no longer require the author to appear in person, instead platforms like Zoom offer the ability to connect Eckbäck with her audience from her home in Canmore.
"It is a very cost effective way to speak to an author," she said, with a laugh. "I feel like I have spoken at more engagements than I would normally."
The Historians is available at Café Books on Main Street in Canmore or through Harper Collins Canada online.