Sunday, August 09, 2015

Vidar Sundstøl, THE RAVENS, "Minnesota Trilogy 3"

Some books don't belong in the summer reading pile. THE RAVENS, the satisfying concluding volume of Norwegian crime fiction author Vidar Sundstøl's "Minnesota Trilogy," is one of these. It's solid, nuanced, complex -- and heavy. But what could you expect, after the heft and intrigue of the two earlier volumes?

As a quick recap, The Land of Dreams took Lance Hansen, a U.S. Forest Service ranger who should never have been involved in investigating a crime of murder, to the dark side of suspicion and spiritual distress. Hansen's hope of amassing an impressive genealogy of his family takes a nosedive as he stumbles across possible evidence of a deadly crime in his family's past -- while struggling to make sense of a brutal killing in "his" forest terrain, along the North Shore of Lake Superior. More details here. Both Scandinavian roots and the tragic past of Native peoples along the lake are soon entwined, along with Hansen's desperation to sort out the threats he's finding and the way his life is crumbling.

The second volume, Only the Dead, is unique among modern crime fiction, as it dwells within a single hunting trip made into a nightmare while Hansen and his brother maneuver in a killer ice storm in the dense woods. It shouldn't be read alone, in my opinion -- which makes it a very good thing that the entire trilogy is now available.

With THE RAVENS, Sundstøl binds together the deadly threads and soul illnesses revealed in the earlier books. And if the end result is a bit less haunted, and a bit more of a traditional crime investigation, it still has shocking moments that make it clear why this unusual crime trilogy is published by the University of Minnesota Press. To resolve his crisis, and eventually untangle the crime, Hansen grapples with his personal hauntings by both Swamper Caribou (the long-dead Ojibwe victim) and the women in his life. To reach the truth, he puts himself and his possible future at risk, and confronts the secrets within his nearest family circle. He even seeks his former father-in-law's instruction:
"The important thing is to fast."

"But I won't be able to sleep if I'm hungry."

"Hungry?" Willy sounded annoyed. "Do you think this has anything to do with going to bed hungry? I'm talking about self-deprivation, Lance. Torture. You need to suffer until you have a vision ... you have to choose to do this. And make it part of your reality."
Don't get just one book (unless you want to start with just the first one; and when you finish it, I think you'll want the others). It's handy in some ways to have this be three volumes, but it's one massive and intense story, engaging, compelling, and lingering. I'll never enter the winter woods, or an ice storm, or a news story about a killing, in the same way again.

1 comment:

shea said...

Thank you. Your reviews of these books make me feel humble.

Vidar Sundstøl