Sunday, December 15, 2013

Scandinavian Mystery Set in Minnesota -- Yes, Really!

When did university presses start publishing impressive Scandinavian authors? Or is it just the University of Minnesota Press that's doing it? Don't answer that -- just grab a copy of Vidar Sundstøl's newly translated crime novel THE LAND OF DREAMS. Detectives don't come much more interesting than Lance Hansen, U.S. Forest Service investigative officer who stumbles into his first murder case on the north shore of Lake Superior, within the bounds of national forestland.

Grandson of Norwegian immigrants with one French Canadian ancestor in the mix, Lance is a self-taught local historian and genealogist, and connects immediately with Norwegian detective Eirik Nyland, sent to the US to help track down the killer of the 20-year-old canoeing tourist whose naked body Lance has discovered. Even as he struggles to sort out why his own brother was near the murder scene and what role his divorced wife, an Ojibwe, is going to let him have in raising his young son, Lance finds himself digging into both the current crime and a long-ago disappearance that may also have been murder -- and somehow seems to connect to the present.

Make time for this one, as it's hard to put down. One caution: This is the first book (just released this fall in America but published in 2008 in Norway) of Sundstøl's "Minnesota Trilogy." Some significant threads won't resolve; there will be a wait for books two and three (which I hope are also being translated by the skilled award winner Tiina Nunnally; I could have sworn the book had been written in English from the start).

But THE LAND OF DREAMS has so many vivid moments, and invites such a bond with its characters, that I believe it will stay with me very nicely until the next volume of the trilogy arrives. Only the Dead is scheduled for fall 2014 release, and The Ravens for a year after that.

Here is one of my favorite passages from the book -- not related to the crime, but a great taste of why I want to read more by Sundstøl, who won the Riverton Prize for best Norwegian crime novel of the year. Lance has just collected the Norwegian detective from the airport and is driving through a storm, and the Norwegian's point of view is here:
Everything was so different from what he'd imagined. He'd expected to have an efficient introductory meeting with the well-oiled machinery of the FBI. Instead, he was sitting here in this old Jeep with Lance Hansen in one of the worst rainstorms he'd experienced.

A bluish, shimmering light filled the car, giving Lance's hands on the steering wheel a cadaverous appearance. Then the moment was shattered by what sounded like the boom of cannons in the surrounding darkness. Another flash of light, and this time he saw the actual lightning bolt, a trembling spear of energy that pierced the rain-pelted surface of the suddenly illuminated lake.

"Would you still call this just light entertainment?" asked Nyland.

At that instant lightning struck again, and an electrically lit interlaced pattern, like the map of a complex river delta, spread across the sky in front of them before collapsing with a deafening boom.

Nyland laughed. He heard Lance laughing too. He didn't know why; he just couldn't help it.
That may be the last "light" moment the two investigators experience -- but it sets the tone for their partnership, in terms of being willing to tackle a dangerous darkness, while clinging to the fragile threads of human love around them.

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