Book Review: ‘Midnight Sun’

While international novels may lose something in the translation, they inevitably gain a great deal in the view they offer into an unfamiliar way of life. Such is the case with Norwegian mystery writer Jo Nesbo’s latest novel, Midnight Sun.

Jon Hansen is a reluctant “fixer” on the run from Oslo where he failed to live up to the terms of a contract as a hitman for a drug lord known as The Fisherman. He has taken refuge in an area called Finnmark, located above the Arctic Circle on the far northeastern border of Norway. In this land of the midnight sun, he assumes the name Ulf while posing as a hunter on vacation.

In the village of Kasund, he meets Lea, a young married woman with a young teenage son named Knut. She lends him a shotgun and lets him use a rustic hunting cabin for the length of his stay. He learns that she is a devout member of the Laestadian Lutheran faith, and that her father is a preacher for this conservative sect favored by the native Sami (Laplander) population.

Ulf, like the protagonists in many crime/mystery novels, is a flawed human being haunted by a troubled past. But at the same time, he is essentially a good guy. While he is hiding out from a second fixer sent to fix him, he initially feels that he has little to lose, until he gets to know Lea and her son.

Nesbo, who is author of the internationally best-selling crime novel The Snowman, is a storyteller. His narrative is fast-paced and compelling, and the book, a quick read. Although he uses a number of the conventions of the mystery genre, he applies them skillfully.

While I found Ulf empathetic, I especially enjoyed the setting. In a number of Scandinavian novels, this one included, the geo-cultural atmosphere becomes a character in itself, a satisfying darkness of tone. And in this tale, the midnight sun, this never-setting orb in the sky with its potential for eventually driving a person insane, becomes metaphorical.

Praise is due the translator, too, for his success in using the English idiom and at the same time retaining the flavor of the Norwegian vernacular.

Like many good crime novels, justice ultimately prevails and our imperfect hero finds meaning in his life, although in a quirky and unexpected fashion that would trouble a court of law.

As a side note, readers who enjoy this novel will be pleased to learn that the prolific author has written 13 earlier novels that await them.

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