In Valhalla’s Shadows by W.D. Valgardson, HC, $32.95
Although I only had half a year of working at the shop to judge from, my Book of the Year 2018 is W.D Valgardson's In Valhalla's Shadows. Valgardson paints a gritty and immersive portrait of rural Manitoba from the perspective of an outsider in a tight-knit community on the shores of Lake Winnipeg. Valgardson's own experience growing up in Gimli is evident in his sense of place and his portrayal of the local community. His protagonist, Tom Parsons, is an ex-RCMP officer and recent divorcee, and has uprooted his life to find solace in the tiny lakeside community of Valhalla. Unfortunately, his discovery of the body of an indigenous teenage girl sets off a string of events in the town, after Tom refuses to see her death as an accident. He discovers the criminal underbelly of what may be seen by outsiders as an idyllic town. Valgardson sprinkles Viking legend throughout the book, making allusions in the place name, Valhalla; casting Tom Parson as the Norse god, Odin; his love interest named Freyja, reminiscent of the Norse goddess of the same name; and three fortune-telling sisters, as the Norns (the fates). I thought that it added much to the story, and while dealing with quite different events, did seem to fit the narrative (and length) of a Viking saga.
A sure sign of a good book, I found it difficult to put down, and even when absolutely necessary to do so, I still found myself thinking about the book. The pressures that the characters were dealing with are not simple, and I think that was what made it so engrossing - so many of the actions of the characters fell into a sort of grey area, people trying to make do with what they could in order to survive.