Review of The Ravens by Vidar Sundstøl

The Ravens is the conclusion of Vidar Sundstøl’s Minnesota Trilogy, following Land of Dreams and Only the Dead. Unlike many mystery series, these books really must be read together and in order, because they all concern the same crimes which are only resolved in this final volume. And for that reason, I need to include here a . . .

SPOILER ALERT!

It’s not really possible to discuss this book without inadvertently revealing some of the surprises in the previous two.

Just so you know.

You’ve been warned.

Okay, then. In The Ravens, “forest cop” Lance Hansen continues his obsessive quest to find out whether his brother Andy is responsible for the murder of a Norwegian tourist who was camping on the shore of Lake Superior. As a forest ranger, Lance has no responsibility for investigating this crime, rumored to be the first murder in Cook County, a wooded tract of land in the northeastern tip of the state, framed by Lake Superior, the Boundary Waters, and the Canadian border. Lance’s only involvement is that he discovered the body, close to Baraga’s Cross, a local historical landmark marking the place where a Catholic missionary landed in a storm on his way to minister to an Ojibwe community stricken with an epidemic.

Because the crime occurred on federal land, it is handled by the local FBI office with the help of a Norwegian detective. An Ojibwe man whose fingerprints are on the bat used to bludgeon the Norwegian to death and who can’t or won’t provide an alibi has been arrested and is awaiting trial. Blood evidence also suggests that the killer was an Indian, not a white descendant of European immigrants. But Lance, a local historian who is more comfortable in the past than in the present, has uncovered a family secret. He and his brother have Ojibwe ancestry. He also finds a second murder victim – an Ojibwe medicine man who disappeared in 1892, just as Lance’s ancestor stumbled ashore after walking across the frozen lake, delirious and half-dead. As Lance thinks to himself “his family had spent a century perfecting the art of forgetting.”

The RavensBecause he saw his brother’s truck close to the scene of the crime, and because he knows Andy is probably gay (as were the Norwegian tourists) but ashamed of his sexual identity and has a history of committing extreme violence, Lance becomes convinced his brother may be a killer. In the second book of the trilogy, that suspicion makes a hunting expedition take a threatening turn as Lance and Andy stalk one another. Layered in this narrative is the story of their ancestor, a young Norwegian immigrant who has crossed the frozen lake and who is terrified by the Indian medicine man who is trying to help him. It’s an intense and disorienting book that leaves us hanging.

In The Ravens, the hunt resumes. Lance continues the family tradition of lying by hiding out in Canada for weeks, convincing his family he is vacationing in Norway. On his return to Minnesota, he continues to lie about his activities while gathering information, particularly from Andy’s daughter, who has been dabbling in drugs and feels oppressed by her father’s protectiveness, which has become physically abusive. Lance reconnects with a woman who he loved many years ago and wonders if it’s too late to love again. He also visits his mother in a Duluth nursing home, where she’s beginning to lose her grip on reality but still seems saner than anyone else in the family. Throughout this concluding volume, Lance is suffers from the same condition as Hamlet. He feels compelled to act, but is paralyzed by introspection.

Though in some ways this final volume has more elements of a mystery than the previous two volumes, it fuses stylistic elements of both: the deep psychological conflicts within a man who seeks the truth but feels the pressures of convention, a mixing of past and present in the figure of Swamper Caribou and what Lance has learned about his murder, moments of visionary hallucinations, and inchoate tension as two brothers circle each other, full of fury and twisted family loyalty.

Throughout the three books, the landscape plays a major role, particularly the vast frozen lake that’s always there, that seems to be without boundaries, a frozen world where figures hover in the distance and large shadows move beneath the ice.

Lake Superior - Grand Marais Lighthouse in the fog

image of the Grand Marais lighthouse in the fog courtesy of Sharon Mollerus.

All in all, I found this an intriguing, poetic, and really unusual crime fiction trilogy, well worth trying. The translation is by the always reliable Tiina Nunnally, who has done a great job. If you’re in Minneapolis tomorrow evening (April 21st) you can meet the author at Once Upon a Crime at 7 pm where I’ll have a chance to interview him. I hope to report back here.

review roundup

At Crime Scraps, Norm reviews Liza Marklund’s latest Annika Bengtzon thriller, Borderline which involves international intrigue and a hostage situation. Does it make me a bad person to be pleased that Annika’s annoying ex is a hostage? It sounds very good (and not just because Thomas is in trouble.)

At Petrona Remembered, there’s a fascinating email exchange/converation between Neil Smith and Liza Marklund about The Long Shadow and its translation and possible reception by English readers. Fascinating! And it ends on a cliffhanger . . .

The Guardian credits the popularity of Scandinavian crime for a boom in translated fiction in the UK.

Crime Fiction Lover provides a lovely tribute and overview of the Martin Beck Series written by Jeremy McGraw

At Crime Review, Tracy Johnson reviews Aren Dahl’s To the Top of the Mountain, who feels the humanity of the characters adds to their appeal.

At Reviewing the Evidence, Yvonne Klein unpacks the multiple plot strands and global locations for Jussi Alder-Olsen’s latest entry in the Carl Mørckseries, The Marco Effect, making it sound very well worth reading.

She makes a reference to an interview with the author in the Huffington Post, which is also worth a read. The author mentions that in addition to a Danish film version of the first in the series, there’s talk of a U.S. television adaptation of the characters, possibly s Hmm…

Ms. Wordopolis reviews an earlier book in Arnaldur Indridason’s Erlendur series, Voices. She finds it’s not the best in the bunch, but it’s still a favorite series. “It’s a reminder to me to spend less time on new releases and catch up on older books.” I’m so glad you feel that way!

Ms. Wordopolis also thinks the second volume of the Minnesota Trilogy, Vidar Sundstol’s Only the Dead, is a much tighter, very different sort of book from the first. I agree with her that it will be interesting to see what the third and final volume is like.

Laura Root also reviews the book at Euro Crime, finding it both unexpected and gripping. (Ditto.)

Staci Alesi (“the Book Bitch”) also reviews that book for Booklist and says though it is short – almost a novella – it’s dark, beautifully written, and suspenseful.

Jose Ignacio Esrcribano reviews (in two languages!) Arnaldur Indridason’s Strange Shores, which finishes the Erlunder series (chronologically, at least). He enjoyed it very much, as did I.

At International Noir Fiction, Glenn Harper reviews Jo Nesbo’s Police, in which Harry Hole is off stage for a good bit of the action, and speculates whether the end is really the end – or not.

Sarah Ward reviews Black Noise by Pekka Hiltunen at Crimepieces and wonders whether it qualifies as Scaninavian crime, given it’s set in London. She finds it has a promising story about social media that unfortunately goes awry, becoming quite implausible. She hopes for better next time.

She also reviews Elsebeth Egholm’s Three Dog Night, a Danish novel about a recently-released convict who moves to a remote community only to meet a prison mate who is, unfortunately, dead. She says it has a well-constructed plot with a good ending though some of the characters in the fraying community can be hard to keep straight. She’s looking forward to the sequel, coming out in the UK soon.

Karen Meek reports on hearing two Danish authors interviewed by Peter Guttridge – Elsebeth Eghholm, Lene Kaaberbol, at the Manchester Literature Festival. Lots of insight into the authors and being translated, here.

Mrs. Peabody investigates a French thriller set in Norway, Olivier Truc’s Forty Days Without Shadow, likening it to M. J.McGrath’s Edie Kiglatuk series set in the Canadian artic. It’s a “cracking debut” that illuminates nomadic Sami culture in a world with borders.  It sounds like a strong nominee for the Petrona Award. Mrs. P. links to an interesting  interview with the author.

Gary Jacobson reviews Karin Fossum’s I Can See in the Dark and finds it creepy, chilling, and effective at portraying the inner life of a very unpleasant man who is guilty of many crimes except for the one he’s accused of.

At Euro Crime, Lynn Harvey reviews Jan Costin Wagner’s Light in a Dark House, the fourth in the Finland-set series, but the first she read.  She says it stands on its own, but she’s ready to go back and read the rest. She concludes, “if you love the mystery of character as much as the mystery of crime – set in a wintry Scandinavian landscape – then I think you will savour [it] as much as I did.

Finns in Minnesota – the Report

It could be a record – three Finnish crime fiction authors together at a single event in North America. It was also a lot of fun. I had a chance to meet the authors – Antti Tuomainen, Jari Tervo, and Jarkko Sipila – at my favorite bookstore, Once Upon a Crime, and then used the excuse of delivering a book needed for display purposes to hear the authors speak at FinnFest without actually registering for the event. (There seemed to be quite a lot of registrants, so I didn’t feel too guilty.)  I also enjoyed finally meeting Juokko Sipila, publisher of Ice Cold Crime, which is doing a lot to bring translated Finnish literature to American readers.

While it will take me a while yet to post reviews of Tervo’s Among the Saints and Sipila’s latest Helsinki Homicide entry, Darling, I wanted to write about the authors’ appearance before I can’t make out the scribbled notes I took.  I won’t be able to review Antti Tuomainen’s next book until it comes out later this year or in 2015, but I will.

Finnish Authors in MN

Jari Tervo, Antti Tuomainen, Jarkko Sipila, and a short person; photo courtesy of Juoko Sipila

One thing that interested me is that, while people often speak of Scandinavian crime fiction as if it’s all somehow similar, these three writers are very different in style. Jarkko Sipila, who works as a television crime reporter in Helsinki in addition to writing 19 crime novels to date, writes in a style that would be familiar to fans of Ed McBain’s 87th precinct series. It’s an ensemble police procedural with an emphasis on representing crime and cops as realistically as possible. Jari Tervo is a huge celebrity in FInland, hosting a talk show that is wildly popular in addition to having published 23 books, three of which are crime stories. The only one to be translated is Among the Saints, just released, Like Sipila’s approach to urban crime, he’s interested in capturing the strange reality of life in northern Finland, through a raucous multi-voiced story about a murder, There are 35 narrators, with the first being the hapless victim, who starts the book with “I was killed the first week of May. It wasn’t even ten o’clock in the morning.” Where Sipila’s reality is gritty, Tervo’s is Rabelaisian. Tuomainen’s novel is about yet another kind of reality – the one we face as our planet’s climate changes. He imagines a world where refugees have fled north, the wealthy have retreated into guarded compounds, and a man tries to figure out where love and poetry belong in a time of chaos.

So, three completely different approaches to crime fiction – but a lovely trio when it came to talking about their writing.

Jari Tervo grew up in Rovaniemi, capital of Finland’s northernmost province and a center for tourists who want to see norther lights and learn about Saami culture. He wants to portray what life in this part of Finland is llike, and among the many voices in Among the Saints, we meet some really goofy characters. I asked how his portrayal of the north is recieved by northerners and he said they love it because they feel it truly captures their experience. He also, speaking at FinnFest, commented that light is a factor – living in darkness in the winter and constant light in summer tends to a certain amount of craziness. Tervo’s publisher has described his style as “Quentin Tarantino meets William Faulkner.” If we borrow zaninesss and a bit crime from Tarantino and the almost ethnographic community ensemble from Faulkner, this makes sense – but Tervo himself settled for “brilliant, yet cheap.” (He’s much funnier than Tarantino or Faulkner.) When he writes, he comes up with the first sentence and the last. “Then all I have to do is write the 300 pages in between.” Rather than have a detailed outline, he likes to see where things go: “writing is discovering.” He also talked about how difficult it is to translate a novel into film because you have to trim so much out. “A novel inhales a huge amount of information,” he said.

Jarkko Sipila’s first name in pronounced “YARK-ko” but when he was a small boy, he lived in Columbus, Ohio while his father attended graduate school at Ohio State. He was used to Americans mispronouncing his name and was quite excited about his fame when ads for Jarkko filters ran on television (since he was used to people calling him “charcoal”). He started to study engineering, but decided “Finland would be better off without bridges designed by me” so instead studied to become a journalist (which is also Tervo’s background). He grew frustrated reading about police in fiction who had floridly dysfunctional personal lives, yet were able to solve crimes singlehandedly with their brilliance. In reality, police officers suffering from alcoholism and traumatic stress wouldn’t be working, they’d be hospitalized. His police officers work as a team under the leadership of Kari Takamäki, a character who he says he has made deliberately a bit unexciting. When I asked about the experience of writing for Finns but having a much wider audience, he said that police have something in common worldwide. They want to catch the bad guys. In a sense that makes the police proedural an easily exported genre. A member of the audience asked whether it was problematic writing about crime in a country where there was so little of it. Sipila pointed out that while Finland has half the crime rate of the U.S., it has twice as many homicides as Sweden and four teimes as many as Norway. One contrast to the U.S., though, is that while gun ownership is quite high in Finland, guns are rarely used in homicides. Knives are a more common weapon. “We like to get in close,” he joked. He also mentioned that crime fiction became popular in Finland in the mid-1990s and he felt it was a response to the recession the country was going through at the time, that people were particularly receptive to the idea of violence having a reason behind it, of justice being served in fiction if not in daily life.

Antti Tuomainen is newer to publishing books (and the other two made a lot out of his having merely published five as opposed to 19 and 23!) Perhaps because his early writing career was in advertising, he came up with a catchy conept for The Healer: since it is a crime story, a romance, and a futurisitic dystopia, you get three books for the price of one! I asked him if he had any theories about why dystopia is suddenly so much a part of our popular culture and he wasn’t sure, other than that the impact of global warming is inescapably evident. He also pointed out that his dystopian novel predates The Hunger Games and all the ensuing imitations, so he was in the distrous future ahead of the pack. Unlike Sipila, who writes an outline, drafts a book in about two months, then does several revisions that take another couple of months, Tuomainen’s stories take longer to come together. “I can write a synopsis,” he said. “I just can’t stick to it.” He discovers things as he goes along, and he also senses when something isn’t right. He described it as being “out of tune,” something that is just discordant in the narrative and has to come out. One of his books was recently optioned for film. When he was asked if he would like to write the script, and he immediately said no. A script requires so many rewrites and so many changes demanded by others that he would find it a frustrating and time-consuming venture. His next book to be translated is titled Dark as My Heart, about a man who wants to find out what happened to his birth mother who disappeared when he was a child. It will be out in the UK from Harvill Secker next year; he told me there may be an ebook version available as soon as October. I look forward to it.

Thanks to Juoko Sipila, FinnFest, and Once Upon a Crime for hosting such an enjoyable encounter with these three fine – and very different – Finnish writers.

books

My book haul for the day.

Mark Your Calendars: Finns in Minnesota, Crime in Iceland

Three Finnish crime authors will be in Minneapolis in August to participate in Finnfest USA an annual national gathering for all things Finnish.

They are participating in FinnFest USA, an annual event that is being held in Minneapolis this year (fittingly, since the first Finnish communities were established in the US 150 years ago by Finns who arrived in Red Wing with the intent to settle and retain their Finnish Finnish flagcultural identities in an area that was being settled by many Nordic immigrants).

For those who aren’t registering for the entire Finn-o-palooza, you will have an opportunity to meet the Finnish authors at the wonderful Once Upon a Crime bookstore, where they will be meeting readers and signing books between 11:00 am and 1:00 pm on Saturday, August 9th. The authors are:

  • Antti Tuomainen (author of the dystopian-romantic-noirish novel The Healer)
  • Jarkko Sipila (author of the Helsinki Homicide police procedural series, the latest of which, Darling, is about to be released)
  •  Jari Tervo (author of a number of novels, the first of which is just being published in English – Among the Saints; thanks to the publisher, Ice Cold Crime, I hope to have a review here soon)

This may be the only time three Finnish crime authors have appeared together in the US. They picked a wonderful store as their host.

I hope to attend the event and report back. Meanwhile, here are my previous reviews of Tuomainen’s The Healer and Sipila’s Against the Wall, Vengeance, Nothing But the Truth, and Cold Trail.

In November, you can travel to Iceland for the second Iceland Noir festival of crime fiction. Along with a great many Icelandic authors and authors who set their books in Iceland, you can meet writers from as far away as South Africa. Johan Theorin of Sweden and Vidar Sundstol of Norway will also be on the program. There will also be a Snæfellsnes Mystery Tour with Yrsa Sigurðardóttir to the remote and Iceland flagsrugged setting of her ghost story, My Soul to Take

At this event, the first award for crime fiction translated into Icelandic (the “Icepick”) will be announced. Here is the shortlist, hot off the press release:

  • Joël Dicker: La Vérité sur l’affaire Harry Quebert [The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair] – Icelandic translation: Friðrik Rafnsson
  • Gillian Flynn: Gone Girl – Icelandic translation: Bjarni Jónsson
  • Jo Nesbø: Panserhjerte [The Leopard] – Icelandic translation: Bjarni Gunnarsson
  • Håkan Nesser: Människa utan hund [Man Without Dog] – Icelandic translation: Ævar Örn Jósepsson
  • Antti Tuomainen: Veljeni vartija [My Brother’s Keeper] – Icelandic translation: Sigurður Karlsson

A Visit with Jan Arnald / Arne Dahl

This past week Jan Arnald was in town as part of a visiting writers program hosted by our Scandinavian Studies department. Jan Arnald is, of course, known to many of us as Arne Dahl, a rearrangement of letters that he used to write crime fiction in secrecy for many years. I enjoyed having him over to our house for lunch last Thursday and hearing his Jan Arnaldlecture that evening, with a packed audience – quite an accomplishment considering how close the students are to their final exams. What follows is a combination of my memory of our conversation and his evening talk.

Arnald finds this part of the United states strangely familiar, partly because so many Swedish immigrants settled in this part of the upper Midwest, partly because of the weather that feels a bit like home. (It was cold and gray and blustery.) His talk opened with a series of “what ifs” in a Tristram Shandy-ish mode. Intriguingly, his parents emigrated to the US in the mid-1920s and adopted the name Arnald, but returned home in 1929, so he became a native-born Stockholmer (which is, like New York or LA, a place largely populated by people who grew up somewhere else).

After talking about many ways he could have been someone else, born in a different place and time or under even slightly different circumstances, he said “that is the vertigo of literature, of fiction.” Even in an era of information overload, we need these “what ifs.” Without the ability to tell stories, to imagine the world through the eyes of other people leading fictional lives, we become lesser human beings.

Though he isn’t  particularly fond of the question “what defines Swedish crime fiction?” given how much variation there is among writers, he outlined some ways that modern Swedish crime fiction evolved, starting with an insight he gained from a fellow author at the Oxford Literary Festival, Nigerian author Ben Okri, who said it seemed to him to have its roots in Norse mythology and elements of the Icelandic saga. Arnald was surprised because he considers himself more anchored in Shakespeare and the Greek tragedies, but Okri said Nordic crime has “a crude power, a distinctive ethics, few words, lonely people, a lot of weather and not so much food, and a boundless single-mindedness.” Arnaldur Indriðason once told me once that it all goes back to the old sagas, at least for that Icelander, but this was a new perspective for Arnald. He found the idea of old traditions handed down unconsciously quite an appealing notion.

During the 19th century, he told us, Sweden was a monarchy with a strong state church and a farming culture, from which 1.3 million Swedes out of a population of 5 million emigrated to other shores. In the early 20th century, the country began to urbanize and developed a strong union movement and a social democratic government that in the 1930s developed the concept of the folkhemmet – the Swedish idea that all people in the country were part of a family and shared a “people’s home,” a way of fostering solidarity and equality while treading a middle ground between revolutionary socialism and unbridled capitalism. Swedish crime fiction grew out of this tradition, but only when cracks began to appear in the foundations of the people’s home. This is the Sweden that Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö described in their ten-volume “story of a crime” in which the crime was the betrayal of social ideals. They set the standard for crime fiction, demonstrating that it could be as good as any other literature, raising readers’ expectations of the genre.

After their series came to an end, however, crime fiction as a genre virtually disappeared from Sweden. It wasn’t a popular genre from the mid 1970s to the 1980s, until the shocking murder of Prime Minister Olof Palme in 1986. This was a moment that changed the country. “We lost our innocence,” he said, having to face the fact that crime was no longer something that happened in other countries, not in safe, secure Sweden. It gripped the nation, and because the killer was never caught meant it wasn’t a story easily resolved. “The entire nation followed the investigation very closely,” he said. “We all got involved in solving crimes. Everybody became a detective.” This loss of innocence and collective attention to crime set the stage for a crime fiction boom.

Henning Mankell conducted the same sort of social analysis that Sjöwall and Wahlöö did, looking at crime as a way of examining changes in Swedish culture, but he became an international success, far more famous and widely read than Sjöwall and Wahlöö. “We got our first Swedish superstar,” as he put it.

Arnald considers himself part of a third generation of writers, ones who came of age in a Sweden that was part of a globalized world, where the fall of the Berlin Wall made Eastern Europe suddenly much closer. (I was reminded of Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis talking Misteriosoabout how astonishing it was to travel to Eastern Europe and find this strangely preserved culture, separated from the rest of Europe for so long.) In the early 1990s financial speculation almost ruined the country’s economy, which set the stage for Misterioso, the first of his crime novels to be translated into English.

At this point in his life, he knew he wanted to be a writer and had published a serious novel, some short stories, and poetry, but (as he put it) “it proved very difficult to make a living from writing experimental Swedish poetry.” He earned a PhD in literature, taught at a university, and co-founded a critical journal. But he still wanted to write imaginatively, and the interior style of literary fiction didn’t seem to suit the world that was changing around him. He wanted to write about society as it changed, and realized that kind of project might give him back his love for writing.

During a bout of flu, he tried reading Kafka, which turned out not to be the best thing to do when in a high fever, so he stumbled over to his shelves to get something else – which turned out to be Henning Mankell’s first Wallander novel, Faceless Killers, It reminded him of his passion for crime fiction as a young reader, and realized that the genre had room for high quality writing. He set out to write ten books in ten years, like Sjowall and Wahloo, but describing a very different Sweden.

He didn’t want to focus too much violence, though facing fear is a powerful motive for reading and writing fiction. He didn’t want to dwell on evil, per se, but understanding the roots of evil acts in the past or in the pursuit of money and power is interesting. He wasn’t particularly interested in crime, but he found the seduction of the forbidden paired with the promise of justice being served compelling. “The transgressions on the borders of society,”Bad Blood he said, “define that society.” When new kinds of crime arise in a society, it says a lot about changes in that society, and those changes, he decided, would be the focus of his series.

Though often crime fiction is faulted for being formulaic, he felt there were many variations to work on that formula. He was particularly interested in avoiding closure, which he called “the enemy of literature.” His challenge was to create endings that left some questions unanswered, to leave readers thinking after closing the book.

He also resisted the cliche of the lonely detective, a middle-aged man carrying the sins of the world on his shoulders. For him, writing about crime was an opportunity to give his art a “social turn,” and he wanted to create a collective protagonist to provide both various perspectives, but also to show how justice isn’t always an individual pursuit, that people can come together and form a team.

He did all this in secret, though, wanting to have his Arne Dahl identity have a fresh start and not be seen as the work of a “learned bastard” who wrote criticism and taught literature. He found his stories influenced (apart from his literary roots in Shakespeare and Greek tragedy) in proletarian literature of the 1930s and in American television – particularly Homicide, which had a similarly collective cast with complicated lives that extended across the series.

Among the attractions of the genre are intensity, catharsis, a problem to solve, the sudden appearance of truth, clarity that life generally lacks, a troubled past put in order, justice being served. Crime writers, he said, don’t love violence and horror. They love justice.

He wanted to portray a Swedish decade through the eyes of a team working together to solve new kinds of international crimes occurring in Sweden, writing stories that tap the core tragedies of life while at times being playful and ironic. And through crime fiction, which he believes is true literature, he found his way back to “the pure pleasure of writing.”

Of course, we English readers are coming to his work very late. I asked him why there was such a long delay in the publication of Misterioso, as I’d been hearing it had been translated for years before it finally came out. Apparently, Random House acquired world English rights but was in no hurry to exploit them, even as his books were selling well in the rest of the world. The publisher wanted changes to Misterioso, particularly to the ending, that neither he nor his translator (the masterful Tiina Nunnally) were happy with. But eventually it was published, and at a bizarrely appropriate moment, when the 2008 financial crisis was fresh in mind and a mystery involving the systematic stalking and murder of wealthy men who had crashed the economy was curiously satisfying. Bad Blood was also uncannily timely, with its Iraq war plot elements easily shifting forward in time for American readers from the first Gulf War into our more recent military adventure in the Middle East.

Though I’m sure it was frustrating for him to wait so long to have an English-speaking audience, he joked about it in his evening talk, calling translation a time machine, one that brought him back to his younger days as a young and promising crime writer, “This is a time machine I don’t mind traveling in.”

I’m rather more impatient – I waited years to read Misterioso! but I’m pleased to see a third book is coming out in the UK soon and look forward to reading it. My reviews of Misterioso and Bad Blood can be found at Reviewing the Evidence. I hope to have a review of the third book, To the Top of the Mountain, joining them soon because I now have a copy of it. Tack så mycket, Jan Arnald.

Photo of the author by Sara Arnald courtesy of Wikipedia

 

p/review of The Land of Dreams by Vidar Sundstøl

Later this month, the Univesity of Minnesota press will release the first volume in the Minnesota Trilogy by Vidar Sundstøl, a Norwegian author who spent two years living on the North Shore of Lake Superior. The Land of Dreams will be followed by Only the Dead (2014) and The Raven (2015). After reading the first, I’m impatient to read the rest.

As the novel opens, Lance Hansen, a forest ranger who patrols the national forest that occupies so much of Cook County, a vast wedge of land stretching between the lake and the Canadian border, is on his way to speak with campers who have illegally pitched a tent near the lake not far from Baraga’s Cross. This is the kind of work he does – enforcing rules, preventing people from dumping garbage on public land, organizing search parties when vacationers got lost, occasionally encountering illegal logging or hidden meth labs. Nothing too dramatic. But this morning will be different.

He parked his service vehicle at the end of the road and got out. It was 7:28. In front of him stretched Lake Superior. There was nothing to see but light and water and sky – no opposite shore on which to fix his eyes, just the illusory meeting of sky and the surface of the water far off in the distance.

Baraga's Crossphoto of Baraga’s Cross courtesy of Jeffachen.

As he heads down the path toward the granite marker that marks the spot where a European missonary once erected a wooden cross after surviving a stormy crossing in 1846, he finds a shoe and a handprint marking where someone fell. Then, as he gets closer to the cross, he sees a bare leg sticking out. A naked man is sitting against the cross, covered in blood and muttering something inaudible. The intonation seems familiar and Hansen realizes he’s speaking Norwegian. Only one word is audible: kjærlighet. Love.

Hansen finds another man not far away, bludgeoned to death. Soon the county’s sheriff arrives. Homicide isn’t a crime they’ve handled much. In fact, there hadn’t been a murder in Cook County in the 25 years he’s been its sheriff. Because the crime occured on federal land, an FBI agent is summoned fom the St. Paul field office, and he is soon joined by a Norwegian detective. Hansen’s involvement in the investigation is over – though there is one thing he’s holding back. He’d seen a familiar truck near the cross, one belonging to his brother Andy, who he understand less than his immigrant ancestors, whose history is stored in binders on floor-to-ceiling shelves in Hansen’s home office.

As the unofficial county historian, Hansen feels more comfortable in the past, and as the FBI agent and his Norwegian colleague try to discover whether a tourist killed his companion or whether someone else was responsible, Hansen becomes fascinated by old news accounts of a body found near the same place in 1892, It could have been the body of an Ojibwe medicine man named Swamper Caribou who’d gone missing earlier, a disappearance that may be connected to an old family story about a fifteen-year-old boy crossing the lake on a winter night – and possibly to Hansen’s dream of walking under the frozen surface of Lake Superior.

The Land of Dreams, beautifully translated by Tiinna Nunnally, is an evocative novel that draws together past and present, the lives of immigrants and the indigenous inhabitants of the North Shore, American dreams and suppressed violence hidden behind calm exteriors and polite silences. In some ways this sounds like Karin Fossum’s explorations of the squirmy things living under the rocks of peaceful small towns in Norway, but in tone and style it’s far closer to Johan Theorin’s Öland quartet, which combines an atmospheric natural setting with psychologically probing portraits and a very light touch of the supernatural.

I’m not surprised that it was awarded the Riverton Prize. It’s a very good book.  I admit that I particularly enjoyed a setting that is familiar to me – just a few weeks ago we traveled to the places where the story is set. Even if you haven’t been to the North Shore, this book will provide you with an interesting journey. The only problem is that you’ll want to return as soon as possible, as there is obviously more to the story.

If you are in the Twin Cities, be sure to stop by Once Upon a Crime, where the author will be speaking on October 17th at 7pm. If you can’t make it, Pat and Gary will save you a signed copy. If you can go, be prepared to leave with a lighter wallet and a heavier bookshelf. It’s a great store full of temptation. But you know you need more books.

ouac

Jarkko Sipila, June 15th

Finnish author Jarkko Sipila will be appearing at Once Upon a Crime in Minneapolis on June Cold Trail - Siplia15th between noon and 2pm. I’ve read and reviewed three of the four police procedurals by Sipila now available in English, thanks to a small publisher devoted to translations of crime fiction from Finland, Ice Cold Crime. All of the translations by Peter Ylitalo Leppa have been excellent. The series has won awards in Finland and has been made into a television series.

I hope to have a review of the fourth – Cold Trail – up soon, but I have to get it away from my husband first. (He gives it high marks.)

Sipila’s books are characterized by gritty realism, with a group of cops led by Kari Takimaki who we get to know quite well doing their best to maintain the peace in a country where Eastern and Western Europe collide and the criminals are bad guys, but entirely human. I’m looking forward to reading the latest entry and grateful to Ice Cold Crime for bringing them to an English-speaking audience.

If you make it to Once Upon a Crime, hang out and you’ll get to meet Craig Johnson (author of the Walt Longmire series) who will be arriving at 3:30. Once Upon a Crime is a happening place, as Shamus could tell you.

seamus at OUAC