The following is an excerpt from my new novel-in-progress, Sukulaiset: The Kindred, a story set in Finland, Estonia, and Karelia.

(c) 2011 Mark Munger


“Damn,” the old man muttered. “Never saw that coming.”

Nigel Christian sat in an over-stuffed easy chair sipping coffee, the fabric worn from use, early morning light falling gently over his aging, blade-like body. The sunlight also highlighted sprigs of blond hair surrounding a sea of baldness atop Christian’s head.

A color television set, a vacuum tube dinosaur enclosed in a mammoth oak cabinet, sat against the far wall of the living room; a small, cramped space, one of three rooms the old man occupied above Tanner’s Bar, a speakeasy crammed into a corner lot of downtown Biwabik, Minnesota. There was no smoking allowed in the apartments. Despite the prohibition, a glowing Camel rested precariously in a clean crystal ashtray on an end table next to the old man, smoke curling slowly in the advancing dawn and migrating towards the slender crack of an open window. Christian smoked because he could: He owned the building; in fact, he owned the entire block of the little town the tavern and apartments occupied.The rest of the buildings under Christian’s control had, like Tanner’s Bar and Rooming House, been reconditioned with government money; federal dollars pumped into Minnesota’s Mesabi Iron Range by its longstanding champion and native son, Congressman Jim Oberstar. It was Oberstar’s electoral fate that had caused the old man’s outcry.

“Oberstar and Blatnik were good men,” Christian said softly, his dull gray eyes following the tabulation of votes from the election across the twitching screen of the Sylvania. Long serving Eighth District Congressman John Blatnik and his understudy and successor, Jim Oberstar, were Democrats; the party the old man usually, though not always, preferred. “Maybe stayed too long, I’ll grant you that. But good men.”

Oberstar’s challenger, a young upstart named Craavack, had clearly outworked the veteran lawmaker and, in the process, had captured at least two years in Congress; returning the seat to conservative control for the first time since 1948; the year Nigel Christian immigrated to the United States.


Christian stood up, mashed his cigarette into the bottom of the glass ashtray with annoyance, picked up his coffee mug, the flag of his native country displayed across white porcelain, and moved with the agility of an athlete towards the kitchenette to refill his cup with densely black coffee.

The apartment was painted manila white. The maple woodwork was unpainted; the burl of the wood clear beneath shiny varnish and in contrast to the off-white walls. Christian’s stocking feet padded softly against matching maple flooring; the thin strips of wood protected by identical finish; the flooring original to the building, which had once housed a dry goods shop on the cavernous main floor, but had always featured a hotel, rooming house, or boarding house on the second and third floors.

The old man’s eyes adjusted to the light entering the kitchenette through a window over the sink.

Not much of a view, Christian thought as he lifted a slightly dented aluminum coffee pot off the glowing burner of the tiny range and stared out freshly cleaned glass.

The old man watched as, across the street, the town’s only undertaker polished chrome on the town’s only hearse.

Sonofabitch Abernathy won’t get me today. Hell of a way to make a living; taking money from grieving widows, widowers, children, and the like. Sonofabitch probably thinks I’m good for one of his ten thousand dollar vaults. Ha! More like a puff of smoke, a few nice words from Pastor Julia, and I’m gone. That’s the way to do it. No need to waste money on futility.

Christian watched the middle-aged funeral director, his fat belly giggling with each swipe of the rag held in his smallish hand, work rims of silver around the Lincoln’s headlamps. The undertaker was dressed for business: a black suit, a white dress shirt with button down collar, and a neatly knotted black necktie announced he was, despite the fact the clothing was obviously at least a size too small, ready to receive the grieving. A smile crept over the old man’s face as he watched a passing beer truck nearly take Abernathy out.

Who makes ready the funeral for a town’s only mortician?

“Slow down. Asshole!” Abernathy shouted as he twirled in the slipstream of the departing Leinenkugel’s truck like an off-center top spinning on a table.

Christian turned his attention to a single plate, toast crumbs adhering to the china; and a juice glass, residual orange juice pulp congealed on the rim. He turned on the hot water tap and rinsed the plate and glass thoroughly before placing them upside down on a clean dishtowel on the Formica counter. Picking up his cup full of coffee, the old man wandered back to the living area where the television screen rolled imprecisely. He reclaimed the soft cushion of his favorite chair, seating himself with a grace usually lost to age, and studied the news scrolling at the bottom of the screen. He was a news junkie. He rarely watched suspense or comedy shows. He was a man of the world; curious and always interested in understanding the status of things in far distant places, like the place he once called home.

“In Darfur, efforts by the African Union forces to calm recent unrest seem destined to failure…”


He remembered when his homeland seethed and teetered on the brink of destruction. There had been inordinate periods of time, after his beloved country was invaded (not once, not twice, but three times in a scant five year period) when, like Darfur, all hope seemed lost for his native land. He was a young man then, in his middle teens, when he donned the uniform of his nation, and then, inexplicably, took on the mantle of one of its invaders.

It was complicated.

Indeed. For such a small place, an internationally insignificant backwater, Christian’s native land was distinguished by a complex and nearly indecipherable history; a past where horrific events and incalculable loss had cannibalized Nigel Christian’s childhood, and very nearly, his soul.

Tires rolled over pavement: A car pulled to a stop in front of the tavern entrance. Someone pressed the intercom buzzer seeking audience with the old man. Christian cleared razor sharp memories from his mind, placed his cup of coffee on its saucer, rose from the sagging chair, and approached the intercom speaker adjacent to the entry door.

“Can I help you?”

There was a slight pause before a scratchy voice replied.

“Mr. Christian, Chief Eddelstrom here. Mind if I come up? There’s a rather urgent matter I need to speak with you about.”

What in the devil’s name would the chief of police need to see me about? The little urchins who broke into the tavern last month to steal cigarettes and booze were caught. Maybe that’s it. Maybe he wants my take on what their punishment should be.

The old man pushed a button. He heard the click of the downstairs security door unlock over the intercom speaker, followed by footsteps: Eddelstrom wasn’t alone. A squad of men, revealed by the loud echo of leather treading wood in the stairwell, ascended towards the apartment.

What the hell is going on?

A knock. The old man unchained the security latch and opened the door to the hallway. Dusty light illumed four men, the chief of police in uniform and three strangers dressed in matching black trench coats, black wingtips shined to identical sheen, red neckties and blue business suits, outside Apartment 2A.

Bud Eddelstrom, fifteen years the chief of the three-officer Biwabik Police Department, thirty years with the force, five years past retirement and still intrigued by what the job brought him every day, stood patiently in the hallway without speaking. The delay allowed the old man to get his bearings. Eddelstrom was a compact man of average height dressed completely in blue. His sidearm was holstered; his utility belt was crammed with police gear. Age hadn’t yet crept into the chief’s eyes, though it had touched his cropped blond hair leaving wisps of light gray around the temples and ears. The cop’s face was ruddy from effort.

“Nigel,” the cop said softly, “We’re here to talk to you about something that’s come up. These two fellows, Starks and Hodges,” the chief continued, pointing to the two men furthest behind him, their tall, athletic bodies nearly equal to the old man’s physique in his prime, “are with the FBI. And Agent Jones, here,” Eddeslstrom concluded, “is with Immigration.”

“What’s this about?”

“Mind if we come in Mr. Christian?” Jones, the nearest federal officer to Eddelstrom asked.

The old man moved aside, allowing the officers to enter the apartment.

“Have a seat.”

“No thanks,” Eddelstrom replied. “This shouldn’t take too long. Just a few questions and we should be out of here.”

Nigel Christian nodded with precision but shifted nervously on the balls of his stocking covered feet.

“How can I help you?”

“Does the name ‘Aleksander Laak’ mean anything to you?” Jones asked in a subdued voice.

Eddelstrom studied the old man as the question was asked. To the cop’s surprise, the name caused obvious upset to spread over Nigel Christian’s face.

A period of silence followed as the old man reached for his coffee, the liquid now tepid from the cool air of the small apartment, grasped the cup’s handle with a steady hand, and sipped slowly.

“Mr. Christian?” Agent Hodges asked, moving slowly towards a living room window; his pace nonchalant; his gaze drawn to the antics of Abernathy who was still polishing the hearse.

Nigel Christian nodded slightly, put the coffee cup back on its saucer, and looked directly at Bud Eddelstrom.

“I know the name.”






  • Eric Grekula:

    Hello Mark! I purchased your book, “Suomlalaiset, People of the Marsh” in Sault Ste. Marie at Finn Fest 2010. It was a pleasure to meet you and personally sign my book. But I must comment on your work. You have written a great historical work of fiction, added some actual events and now I will again visit Duluth since my last visit was 1991. This book has made an impact on me in regards to life a century ago. When your new book, “Sukulaiset” is published I will definitely purchase and read this novel. I am sure it is on par with your previous works.
    Will your books be published in the epub format? I do not own a Kindle ereader, but a Sony ereader and maybe your books can be sold in another format. Thanks again for a great read. Eric from Aurora….Ontario.

    • Mark:

      Thank you ever so much for your feedback. It has been a difficult time in the book industry these last three years. The economy has been very, very tough on little presses like CRP. However, I plan to “regroup” over the next year and, hopefully, the new book will see the light of day sooner than later. My books are presently available on Kindle and hopefully, when “Sukulaiset” is released in a year or so from now, it will be formatted for Sony, Kindle, and Nook. Reader comments like yours are the reason I keep doing this. I’d be very grateful if I could use your comments on my blog but I won’t feature them without your permission. Please let me know if that would be alright.

  • Darla Koski:

    Very intriguing. I’m anxious to read it!

    • Mark:

      It’s a year or two away from fruition. But I think it will be a story I will be proud of. Thanks for following my musings and being a loyal reader.


  • Kathy Unger:

    Hello Mark, You may remember me from your book signing at Petrell Hall in Brimson. Suomalaiset is a book I could not put down. The excerpt from Sukulaiset has also “grabbed” me and I can’t wait for it to be published! I love your work. I’m glad you’re not giving up and will continue to publish and muse on your website! Regards, Kathy

    • Mark:

      Thanks for the vote of confidence. I’m deep in editing the sequel now. I hope to figure out a way to get some assistance publishing it from various Finnish American, Estonian American groups or foundations. We shall see…

  • Julie Johnson:

    Mr. Munger,

    The Toimi School Community Center is having their annual Mid-Summer Festival on Saturday, June 20 from 10:00 – 4:00. Would you be willing to donate a signed copy of Sukulaiset: The Kindred for their silent auction? Thank you.

    Julie Johnson, Board Member

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