I came across The Land of Dreams by Vidar Sundstol (translated by Tiina Nunnally) while trolling Net Gallery seeking some hot new releases. I didn’t find what I was looking for but was intrigued by this work of translation:
Winner of the Riverton Prize for best Norwegian crime novel and named by Dagbladet as one of the top twenty-five Norwegian crime novels of all time, The Land of Dreams is the chilling first installment in Vidar Sundstøl’s critically acclaimed Minnesota Trilogy, set on the rugged north shore of Lake Superior and in the region’s small towns and deep forests.
The grandson of Norwegian immigrants, Lance Hansen is a U.S. Forest Service officer and has a nearly all-consuming passion for local genealogy and history. But his quiet routines are shattered one morning when he comes upon a Norwegian tourist brutally murdered near a stone cross on the shore of Lake Superior. Another Norwegian man is nearby; covered in blood and staring out across the lake, he can only utter the word kjærlighet. Love.
FBI agent Bob Lecuyer is assigned to the case, as is Norwegian detective Eirik Nyland, who is immediately flown in from Oslo. As the investigation progresses, Lance begins to make shocking discoveries—including one that involves the murder of an Ojibwe man on the very same site more than one hundred years ago. As Lance digs into two murders separated by a century, he finds the clues may in fact lead toward someone much closer to home than he could have imagined.
Since I have family in this area, and have recently spent some time in the region, I was drawn to the story. Throw in the translation aspect and psychological crime genre and it seemed like an interesting read.
And it was both interesting and engaging but not really what I expected it to be.
One aspect that came through as expected was the way the setting, the North Shore of Lake Superior, acts as a character itself. The landscape and the history of this region continues to impact its residents and their lives. It has shaped their identity in ways seen and unseen; it affects the way they see themselves and how they see others. The somewhat unique immigration patters play a large role in the culture and history of the region; its politics, economy, food, etc.
And Lance Hansen is doubly aware of this impact because of his interest and knowledge of its history and lineage. In fact, Hansen seems more comfortable in the past than in the present. He views the world through the lenses of this history and in a detached way. so when a murder dredges up both history and personal issues, Lance is caught off-balance.
What surprised me was how much of the novel is psychological and internal. The book seems to start as a straightforward crime story albeit with a unique perspective given the setting and the authors background. But as the book progresses it becomes more about how what we know and what we think we know affect our relationships and our conceptions or ourselves and the world around us.
Lance is trying to come to grips with who he really is and how his life might play out in the future. Each twist in turn in his investigation into the murder and into his own family history seems to change the trajectory and enjoyment of that life.
Detective Nyland muses on similar thoughts; about home, family, culture, tradition and their role in community and relationships. In trying to understand the community he is visiting, and Lance in particular, he end up thinking about his own life and habits.
But really Hansen is the focus. And as he becomes obsessed with the details of the murder and what he does or doesn’t know the book focuses more intently on his character and it seemed to me to go in an increasingly melancholy and psychological direction. The ending was downright philosophical.
I am not really sure how I feel about it to be quite honest. I enjoyed the way the characters were developed within the setting of the region and the circumstances of the crime. The story really captures the characters and relationships involved in living in an area like this (or at least seemed to from my experience and knowledge). And the murder served as a fulcrum of sorts over which different aspects of the story turned and illuminated the different backgrounds and perspectives the various characters brought to the crime and the suspects.
But the ending seemed to fizzle a bit to me. And if you don’t have an interest in the region or its people the slow pace and lack of real tension for most of the book might be a deterrence. I found it an enjoyable read but felt the ending just sort of drifts off. Of course, it is the first in a trilogy so we may learn more as the story progresses.
Those interested in Scandinavian crime novels and/or the Great Lakes Region will surely want to check this one out (unless you can read Norwegian and have already read the series!). Those looking for a fast-paced crime novel will be disappointed while those with a more psychological bent will likely enjoy.