To Cook a Bear


AUTHOR: Mikael Niemi


GENRE: Fiction, Film rights

To Cook a Bear is the fantastic story of revivalist preacher Lars Levi Laestadius and the young Sami boy he saves from a ditch and cares for. It is the summer of 1852 in the Kengis village of Sweden’s far north, and Jussi – as the boy is called – has fled from a cruel home plagued by abuse, starvation, and alcoholism.

Jussi becomes the preacher’s faithful companion and disciple. Laestadius is an avid botanist, and with Jussi in tow he sets out on long botanical treks filled with philosophical discussions. The preacher teaches Jussi all about plants and nature; but also how to read, write and not least to love and fear God. For it is revivalist times, and thanks to Laestadius impassioned faith spreads like wildfire among the locals. While the preacher’s powerful Sunday sermons grant salvation to farmers and workers, they gain him enemies among local rulers, who see profits dwindle as people choose revival over alcohol.

One day a maid goes missing in the deep forest, and soon thereafter another disappears. One of them is found dead, the other badly wounded, and the locals suspect a predatory bear is at large. The constable is quick to offer a reward for capturing the bear, but the preacher – who in both instances was the first to be called to the crime scene – sees other traces. Traces that point to a far worse killer on the loose. Along with Jussi, the preacher reinvents himself as something of a forensic expert, unaware of the evil that is closing in on him.

To Cook a Bear is a riveting tale of great events in a small community. A gripping and vivid read, it manages to both entertain and to burrow deep down into the great philosophical questions of life. Reminiscent of Victor Hugo’s Les misérables and Marilynne Robinson’s Lila, To Cook a Bear goes straight to the heart.



“One of the great events of the year, in terms of translated literature, is undoubtedly the historical procedural To Cook a Bear by Swedish author Mikael Niemi, in brilliant translation by Sergei Stern. A handy comparison is the novels of Umberto Eco (e.g. The Name of the Rose), which also hide deeply philosophical historical novels in the disguise of crime procedurals.”

Polaris, Russia

“…a suspenseful, good-natured and occasionally insanely funny book that one simply wants to disappear into and go into hibernation for a few days.”

Posta Magazine, Russia

“The language is incredibly evocative. In Sergei Stern's masterful translation one can virtually hear how the peasants and the reindeer herders sound: their lamentations and cries, their cussing and profanities, which creates a both comical and eerie effect. The peculiar magic of the language has made it one of the most popular and notable books from Phantom Press.”

Labirint, Russia

“Niemi’s writing – that of a narrator and a poet, a dreamer and a storyteller – brushes the highest peaks of the most delicate lyricism, rising strongly out of the abyss of the darkest mystery.”

Alessandra Iadicicco, Corriere della Sera

“Niemi plots a composite story where the philosophical novel, the crime novel, the historical novel and the coming-of-age story coexist, complementing one another instead of getting in each other’s way”

Alessia Gazzola, La Stampa

“Niemi’s thriller has such a suggestive atmosphere –stifling in its sweating puritanism, yet somehow lyrical, with an incredibly well conceived plot.”

Laura Ricci, Il Sole 24 Ore

“Laestadius, a man of faith and science, buried in the evil of ignorance and violence. A fighter who struggles to find humanity right where the darkest night feasts on man weaknesses. Best book of 2019”

“Visionary, rough, poetical and therefore deeply subversive. The pastor’s botanical knowledge makes the investigation and the scenery truly engaging.”

“Murders in Mikael Niemi’s To Cook a Bear? They are just a pretext for telling the story of the spiritual and cultural journey of Jussi, the adopted child of Laestadius, pastor, botanic and detective. They are also a pretext for praising books as antidotes to poverty and discrimination” 

“A masterpiece of narrative”

La Vanguardia

“It is Swedish and a thriller, but it has nothing to do with Stieg Larsson and his Millennium saga . . . To Cook a Bear surprises with its original title, and grips readers with its police investigation in the purest Sherlock Holmes style. But it is also a historical novel based on the real figure of Pastor Lars Levi Laestadius and a manifesto for words and the importance of reading . . . A very different thriller that goes beyond the classic killer hunt and reminds us at times of the magnificent success The Name of the Rose

La Voz de Galicia

“The Swedish writer Mikael Niemi immerses the reader in a historical thriller with Pastor Lars Levi Laestadius, a nineteenth-century historical character . . . An investigation in the purest police style that surrounds Laestadius and his disciple Jussi, a clear tribute to classic works like Sherlock Holmes."


“A novel with many shades . . . A powerful story with traces of an American thriller”


" The pleasure of To Cook a Bear is twofold: On the one hand, one experiences an almost criminal thrill of voyeurism as Jussi and the Pastor investigate the mysterious assaults. On the other hand, one is transported into a strange time and fascinating world that is equally beautiful and brutal. The descriptions of the landscape and the changing of the seasons instill an urgent desire to crank up the time machine, while the no less tangible depictions of tooth extractions, bear cooking and immense poverty makes one very grateful for central heating, a soft bed and a hospital nearby. … For every book Jussi reads, the world opens up a bit more – and that is how it feels when you finish To Cook a Bear: as if the world just got a little bit bigger."


"A nerve-rackingly good storyteller."


Oh, how it smells and tastes, this novel. Of animals, sweat and decay. Of lovemaking, herbs and fermented brews. Of poverty, blood and violence. Swedish writer Mikael Niemi does something special with language – indeed, he does so much that his prose sometimes becomes almost physically intrusive. In his new novel, To Cook a Bear, he tells a profound, colorful and complex story in which all his abilities as a writer come into their own."


"Mikael Niemi's To Cook a Bear is a magnificent novel about people and nature that reaches out across two hundred years to touch us ... a literary triumph."

Fyen Stiftstidende

"To Cook a Bear is a true reading pleasure. The writing style is detailed, palpable, remarkable. Fantastic! A murder mystery that will take your breath away! Highly recommended!"

"To Cook a Bear is a wonderfully powerful novel. A novel about life in the far north, about faith, hope and love. But also an old-fashioned crime novel. Forget all about contemporary forensic methods: look back instead to indispensable inventions such as fingerprints and daguerreotypes ... So, if you are a fan of good solid novels with historical twists and proper detective work, then this linguistic gem should definitely be on your reading list. Few writers manage to blend different genres – Niemi is one of them."


“Divine crime fiction ... This book is a masterpiece ... The legendary Læstadius becomes a kind of Sherlock Holmes in this extraordinary historical crime novel ... [Niemi] creates images, smells, sounds, atmospheres and characters that make this book a truly extraordinary reading experience. ... a must-read”


"Superb suspense! ... a multifaceted, mysterious and engaging novel. With a prose that glows ... a book quivering with commitment and compassion, but also with foolishness and unconstrained brutality. To Cook A Bear is a rich novel that irresistibly engages the reader ... Mikael Niemi’s novel provides a ruthless and almost physically palpable portrayal of a time that seems endlessly long ago ... Is it nonetheless possible to feel elated after having read such a story? I dare answer in the affirmative: To Cook A Bear is simply a great literary experience”


"Formidable delivery. ... Unlike anything else you have read ... [Niemi] has composed science fiction as well as suspense, but without the plentiful humor and local color of Popular Music from Vittula, it hasn’t really lived up to past greatness. Not until this incredible novel"


"The pleasure of To Cook a Bear is twofold: On the one hand one experiences almost criminal enjoyment as one watches from the sidelines while Jussi and the pastor investigate the mysterious attacks. On the other hand, one gets drawn into an unfamiliar time and a fascinating world, as beautiful as it is brutal. /…/ …and that’s also how it feels when one has finished To Cook a Bear: as if the world has become a little larger.”

Politiken (5 stars)

“It’s captivating as well as illuminating; several historical figures from the birth of Laestadianism appear, and the murder mysteries keep the reader entranced throughout the almost 400 pages. /…/  Mikael Niemi has written an intensely entertaining story.”


"Niemi’s prose is rich and visual, the story a blend of redolent, historical tall tale and detective novel. […] The portrayal of the orphaned Jussi is both clever and compassionate, and will linger long after finishing the book."

Tidningen Vi

"The new novel To Cook a Bear fulfills the everlasting expectations attached to everything Niemi has done since Popular Music from Vittula. The narrative zest, the humor and warmth of the dialogue, the suspense, and the instructiveness of the historical setting. A fine book, simply put."


"With characteristic elegance, the author weaves a tall tale out of Læstadius’ life … A well-written, accessible, and entertaining historical novel that provides insight into Læstadius’ thoughts and deeds, while simultaneously depicting the Sami; their language and plight as a colonized people."


"When Niemi takes on Læstadius, the latter also assumes the role of forensic scientist, following a murder in the woods. Even the title of this historical novel – To Cook a Bear – promises precisely that bleakness, rawness, humor and revelation of man that I have enjoyed in Mikael Niemi’s previous books."


"Mikael Niemi’s new novel contains both powerful personal portraits and a sensitive depiction of the nature and botany of Tornedalen. […] The story evolves from an evocative opening to a phenomenal finale, a finale that is painful to read but nonetheless irresistibly suspenseful."


"Mikael Niemi has written a novel as folksy as a Vilhelm Moberg and as locally genuine as a Sara Lidman or a Torgny Lindgren. And oh, how his writing sings."

Gefle Dagblad

”Mikael Niemi describes the early steps of the revivalist movement with so rich nuances, that it alone would be enough to make this novel his best book so far.

Aamulehti 4/5 stars

”The book is unbearably exciting and extremely skillful.”


Rights sold


Czech rights sold to Argo

Danish rights sold to Modtryk

Dutch rights sold to AtlasContact

Faroese rights sold to Sprotin

Film Rights sold to Anagram

Finnish rights sold to Like

French rights sold to Stock

German rights sold to BTB

Islandic rights sold to Forlagid.

Italian rights sold to Iperborea

North American rights sold to Penguin Books

Norwegian audio Rights sold to Lydbokforlaget

Norwegian rights sold to Oktober

Polish Rights sold to Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Jagiellonskiego

Russian Rights sold to Phantom Press

Spanish rights sold to Destino

UK rights sold to MacLehose Press

US Rights sold to Penguin US