The Ravens by Vidar Sundstøl

ravensThe Ravens by Vidar Sundstøl, translated by Tiina Nunnally

University of Minnesota Press, April 2015

Book 3 of Minnesota Trilogy

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

The Minnesota Trilogy is a bit different than what I expected. Sundstøl is a Norwegian author who lived on the North Shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota for some time, and when he returned to Norway he wrote this trilogy of books focusing on US Forest Service policeman Lance Hansen who discovers the dead body of a Norwegian tourist and kayaker at Baraga’s Cross. The books cover Hansen’s unofficial investigation: unofficial both because he was a witness, because the US Forest Service does not have jurisdiction over the murder inquiry, and finally, because he goes off-grid after the second book because he suspects his brother is the murderer.

It’s also an unexpected trilogy for me because the books delve so heavily into Lance’s obsession with local history, both Norwegian immigrants and Ojibwe ancestors: it’s a crime story that’s very much about the small communities that Hansen inhabits and visits and their history.

After a very brief and thriller-esque installment in book 2, The Ravens feels more like a sort of police procedural or amateur investigator story (because Lance’s investigation was informal and not sanctioned by the police). The plot wasn’t nearly as twisty as I’m used to reading, and in that sense the solving of the mystery was a bit of a let-down for me. It’s still a devastating outcome in many ways, but the narrative arc of this book wasn’t as fast-paced as I like.

It’s a trilogy I’m glad I read both because of the setting–it’s always refreshing to read a good book that doesn’t take place on the East or West coasts– and because it’s quite different from other crime novels in terms of pacing and focus. While it’s quite slow and meditative in parts, it’s also a thriller in the second book.

I’ve reviewed the entire trilogy:


Only the Dead by Vidar Sundstøl

only the deadOnly the Dead by Vidar Sundstøl, translated by Tiina Nunnally

University of Minnesota Press, September 2014

Minnesota trilogy book 2

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

Only the Dead is a short sort of thriller that feels very different than the first book in the Minnesota trilogy, The Land of Dreams. It works best if you’ve read the first book in the trilogy, which involves U.S. Forest Service officer Lance Hansen’s  investigation into the stabbing death of a Norwegian tourist at Baraga’s Cross at the Cross River on the Northern Shore of Lake Superior, but if you’re one for taut thrillers, I’d skip the first lengthy book and start with this one. He believes it to be the first murder ever in the county until he suspects one of his ancestors of having murdered Swamper Caribou, an Ojibwe settler. The two stories alternate in this book as well as in the first book, and they take on a sort of hallucinatory quality.

So what exactly goes on in Only the Dead is a series of hunting trips with Lance and his brother Andy, whom he suspects murdered the Norwegian tourist. Lance is fueled by guilt because another man is in jail facing murder charges, but he can’t prove that his brother is the murderer. Andy in turn is suspicious of his brother, and their hunting excursions in increasingly dire weather in early winter are very suspenseful.

I read this book because I’m invested in the case of the dead Norwegian kayaker, and I’m glad this book felt like a surprise compared to the first one. It’s a thoughtful book as Lance tries to come to terms with his family’s past and his ancestor’s past (he discovered he has Ojibwe ancestors in the last book). I wonder how the case develops in the next installment, entitled Ravens, and I wonder what kind of format that book will take: meditative crime story or a thriller?

The Land of Dreams by Vidar Sundstøl

land of dreamsThe Land of Dreams by Vidar Sundstøl, translated by Tiina Nunnally
University of Minnesota Press, September 2013
Originally published as Drømmenes land, 2008

FTC Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I picked up this book for a number of reasons: (1) I’d like to read some Norwegian crime fiction that’s not by Jo Nesbø or Anne Holt. (2) The Land of Dreams has won or been nominated for a number of awards, which could be a plus or a negative because I don’t know the idiosyncracies of judging panels for every crime fiction award. (3) I liked Nunnally’s translation of Misterioso by Arne Dahl. (4) It’s a book written by a Norwegian about an area of the U.S. teeming with Norwegian Americans, which makes for an interesting perspective. According to the publisher, Sundstøl and his wife lived in Minnesota on Lake Superior for two years, and the time inspired him to write the Minnesota Trilogy. (5) And finally, I’m interested in the history of Great Lakes states since I’ve lived in Michigan over 10 years. But what about the story?

The Land of Dreams is a moody book that centers on Lance Hansen, a forty-something U.S. Forest Service police officer who discovers a dead Norwegian man near an area named Baraga’s Cross on Lake Superior. While Lance is not a participant in the investigation since he’s a main witness, the story follows him the most because of his discovery of the body and he is the local historian, complete with the county historical archive in his home. The moodiness comes about because of the gruesomeness of the crime, the intractableness of the investigation, and the lonesomeness of Lance as he’s trying to cope with the shock of the crime.

Some readers may fault sections of the book as an info dump: there’s an awful lot of time spent with the Norwegian settlers of Cook County Minnesota, Lance’s ancestors and his immediate family, the Ojibway who first settled the land, the fur trappers, and more. I didn’t mind the slow pace because I don’t know much about the background and history of northern Minnesota. Also, the history and the stories people tell are central to the solving of the crime as well as Lance’s investigation into the disappearance of an Ojibway man named Swamper Caribou over a hundred years ago. It definitely left me with a lot to think about “stories people tell over and over though they know it’s not true.” While I tend to prefer novels with more plot, this was an interesting read.