Scandinavians star in two new historical romances that probe the immigrant experience.
"The Whiskey Creek Water Company," by Gig Harbor author/publisher Jan Walker, is a Depression-era novel that opens the morning after the 1932 presidential election. Young Kitsap Peninsula schoolteacher Maeva Swanson is pleased with the outcome - her fiancé Axel Jenson is crankier than usual. They may not have politics in common, but they've known each other forever and he is captain of a launch that plies Puget Sound and serves as the "school bus" for kids who come to Maeva's school from across the water.
The other news traveling through the grapevine that day concerns a fellow from Detroit who has arrived in Burke Bay driving a fancy car.
It soon becomes clear that Farley Price is a scoundrel. He has a nose for sniffing out moonshine rigs in the woods, and quickly picks up work running liquor for a local bootlegger while leaving his family to their own devices.
Wife Eleanor finds work at the local eating establishment, and daughter Hannah becomes a prize pupil at Maeva's school.
However they may feel about Farley, the Swedish immigrant community likes Eleanor and Hannah and welcomes them into the fold.
Meanwhile, bachelor brothers Hauk and Lang Nordland maintain a protective presence. Each brother is smitten with an unavailable woman (Hauk likes Maeva, Lang likes Eleanor), but both maintain stoic façades and demonstrate their allegiance through quiet acts of support until an explosive confrontation stuns the community.
"The Whiskey Creek Water Company" is a well-paced tale, populated with interesting characters and rich in detail. The double romance is a bit of a stretch, but for the most part, the author handles it deftly. This is a satisfying book.
I'd also like to mention "Albin's Letters," a novella written by Rosie Atkinson, a retired editor and columnist living in Port Orchard.
The principal characters, Albin Putkonen and Hilda Sjostedt, meet in Helsinki in the early 1900s.
Hilda is Swedish. She is staying with her older brother, John, who has come to Finland and established a successful business.
Albin is from Lapland, where jobs are scarce. In turn of the century Finland, Russia is increasingly asserting itself and the future is uncertain.
Sparks fly between Albin and Hilda. But when John disapproves of Albin's heritage and prospects, the two young lovers devise a plan. Albin will leave for America to find work, and then he will send for her.
The couple's plans are thwarted, however, when all of Albin's letters from America are intercepted by her brother.
This story is told in a spare manner, with scant connective tissue, as the narrative jumps from immigrant ships to lumber camps and so on - sometimes this feels like a story outline rather than a fully developed work.
Still, there is a certain charm in the forthright manners and actions of the main characters. And the Finnish and Swedish recipes at the back of the book help to sweeten the deal.
Barbara Lloyd McMichael writes a weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org