Swedish writer Ekman, author of 17 novels, debuts in English with this prizewinning thriller: a literary crime story for readers who thought Peter Heg's Smilla's Sense of Snow was too upbeat. Arriving at the Swedish commune Starhill to join her lover Dan Ulander, Annie Raft stumbles on two corpses lying in a tent and sees a boy running from the scene. Eighteen years later, she and her daughter, Mia, see the boy, now grown to manhood. Before Annie can tell the authorities that she's recognized their only lead in the unsolved case, Mia is killed. But alert readers will long since have surmised that the boy she saw was Johan Brandberg, who fled his miserable family after escaping from the well his resentful stepbrothers had lowered him into. Taking with him an eel he rescued from the well, Johan had hitchhiked with an older woman calling herself Ylja across the border to Norway, where the woman briskly relieved him of his virginity, established him as the latest incarnation of the mystical Traveler who was prophesied to arrive with a live animal, and finally drove him away. The frenzy of isolation to which Ylja pushes Johan is mirrored by Annie's own alienation back in Starhill, where the hatred of Swedes for Lapps and commune members for the bourgeois who surround them--not to mention the rivalries within the commune--finally reaches toxic proportions. In an Arctic landscape whose grim determinism recalls Hardy, commune families grow, harden into deformity, or split up with chill fatalism, and readers impatient with Ekman's brooding vignettes of calcifying loneliness are likely to feel like polar explorers trudging along under heavy loads in the worst weather, hoping to find, in the aftermath of Johan's return, the key that will redeem their ordeal in a burst of wild insight. Not for the impatient or fainthearted: a dour study of murder as the logical outgrowth of simmering, all-consuming rage.