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Sundstol, Vidar - 'The Land of Dreams' (translated by Tiina Nunnally)
Hardback: 344 pages (Oct. 2013) Publisher: University of Minnesota Press ISBN: 0816689407

THE LAND OF DREAMS by Vidar Sundstol is the first in the award winning Minnesota trilogy, translated from the Norwegian by Tinna Nunnally, set amongst the Scandinavian diaspora in Minnesota in the communities near Lake Superior and the Canadian border. This first instalment mostly follows the story of Lance Hansen, US forest service cop, a forty-six-year-old podgy divorcé with a seven-year-old son, a serious minded loner with a fascination for local history. Hansen is more used to dealing with more minor matters, such as illegal camping, littering and fishing without a licence, so is very shocked to stumble upon a murder scene at the remote Baraga's Cross, while investigating a seemingly innocuous report of illicit camping. The murder victim, Georg Loftus, was a Norwegian tourist, a young Christian who came to the US for a last canoeing holiday with his best friend, Bjorn Hauglie, before marrying his fiancée. Since both the victim and his friend were found naked, this soon sparks suspicion that they were friends as well as lovers, a suggestion that shocks the rather conservative Hansen.

Lance turns out to be mostly a witness rather than investigator in this case (the case is soon handed over to Bob Lecuyer of the FBI to investigate, assisted by Norwegian murder investigator Eirik Nyland specially flown out to assist. The FBI and Nyland suspect that Lance may not be sharing all his knowledge, though they are unsure what he might be concealing. This suspicion is absolutely correct, as Lance is concerned that his younger brother Andy has gone out of his way to lie about his whereabouts on the night of the murder, claiming he was out fishing miles away from the Cross, when Lance knows this is untrue.

At the same time as trying to subtly protect his brother from suspicion, Lance's curiosity is piqued by a throwaway comment at the crime scene about whether this is the first murder in the locality. A local history enthusiast, he scours the local newspapers in his archives and discovers that the disappearance of Ojibway medicine man, Swamper Caribou in 1892 may have been suspicious, and seems to have happened at virtually the same time as Thormod Olson, a huge figure in the family mythology, arrived at his uncle's (and Lance's great-grandfather's) house close to death, claiming to have survived falling in the freezing lake.

THE LAND OF DREAMS is a distinctive book, showing us small-town American community life with a Scandinavian twist. The tensions between the big city FBI cops and Lance, who takes pride in his small-town conservative morals, as opposed to their perceived East Coast liberalism, are nicely depicted. The lake communities, their social and economic history and the lake itself are described in great detail, possibly occasionally in a little too much detail! We see that the relationship between the locals and their Scandinavian roots has a surprisingly abiding influence over a century later, with many taking great pride in the stories of their pioneering ancestors, however implausible they may be. This book feels very much intended to be read as part of a trilogy, rather than as a standalone, with this first instalment focused on building up character, family relationships and sense of place as much as plot, and readers looking for any neat form of resolution of the Hauglie murder case may be slightly disappointed by the end of the book. I look forward to reading the next two books in this series.

Laura Root, England
October 2013

More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 13/10/2013 09:57