To Cook a Bear, translated from the Swedish by Deborah Bragan-Turner, makes readers privy to the inner thoughts of the remarkable Laestadius, who can smell God in the faint aroma of a tiny flower while pondering the whereabouts of a killer ... Intriguing also are the perceptions of Jussi, who savors the natural world in a sensuous manner bordering on synesthesia and whose own altruistic convictions, learned from his adoptive father, he holds as Gospel.
There is much more to this wonderfully idiosyncratic novel from Sweden; it is not only a riveting, psychologically astute mystery but also a work of history, natural history (the pastor is a gifted botanist), and religion. Both the pastor, who is nationally known as founder of a controversial revivalist movement, and Jussi are highly empathetic and memorable characters who populate a book that is an example of both superb genre fiction and character-driven literary fiction. It is not to be missed.
Swedish author Niemi draws on classic murder mystery elements for a sumptuous, deeply informed historical account of 19th-century Lutheran revivalist Lars Levi Laestadius and his adopted son, Jussi, a Sami runaway who narrates most of the novel ... While the plot isn’t likely to leave mystery aficionados baffled, it provides a lively framework for a story that, in other hands might have been devoted to sermon writing and leaf examination. Niemi’s sensitive approach to cultural differences and sharp interest in period details make this worthwhile.