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Midnight Sun Hardcover – 2015
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Arriving by bus to hide out, a drug dealer and hit man has fled the wrath of the Oslo drug lord known as The Fisherman. He calls himself Ulf, though that’s not his name. Ulf has arrived in an out-of-the-way village populated by indigenous local people known as the Sami. There he stumbles upon a young woman who invites him to hole up in her husband’s hunting cabin and loans him a rifle and ammunition. Her precocious ten-year-old son shows him the way. We suspect that the hit man and the young Sami woman are attracted to each other, but there’s no hint of that in her manner.
Midnight Sun is at once a murder mystery of sorts, a meditation on faith, and a travelogue. In flashbacks interspersed with passages describing Ulf’s stay in the village, we learn the backstory. His life selling hash, his work as a hit man, his relationship with The Fisherman. Gradually, we come to understand exactly why Ulf has fled Oslo, and why he is in danger from men who will surely be sent to murder him on The Fisherman’s behalf.
Ulf’s encounter with the unique fundamentalist sect that dominates the Sami community takes center stage in the story. His benefactor is the daughter of the local preacher, a fearsome man who instills the fear of fire and brimstone in everyone around him. Ulf’s own atheism is put to the test.
About the author
Jo Nesbo‘s ten novels about the troubled Oslo policeman Harry Hole have elevated him into the first rank of crime writers worldwide. He is less known outside Norway for the other twelve novels he has written, as a vocalist and songwriter for a popular local rock band, or for his former career as a soccer player for one of the country’s principal football clubs.
While the premise is fairly believable, the mechanics of the whole thing are not. How did the Fisherman find Ulf so easily? Didn't he bother to cover his tracks when he fled Oslo for a tiny town in Finnmark--which is the middle of nowhere and almost within the Arctic Circle--when he didn't know himself that he was going to stop there? It just isn't that easy to find people who leave behind no family and don't want to be found. And then, when his pursuers do locate him, he is able to wander all over this little burg while still avoiding them? Seriously? Are they suddenly struck incompetent, or what? There is much about "Midnight Sun" that could use an explanation.
For the most part, the characters lack sufficient development to be engaging. Lea is reasonably well sketched out as the young widow locked into a repressive religious sect, as is Mattis, but there simply aren't enough pages to develop any of the characters much beyond an introductory level. And that's really the problem with the entire book. It could have been a stellar effort had it been longer, better fleshed out, with more thought put into it. As is, I wouldn't recommend buying it.
What ties these two together is The Fisherman, crime kingpin of Oslo. Jon worked for The Fisherman selling drugs and other 'special' jobs as needed. Except Jon couldn't do it - he couldn't kill. So now he's run to a remote village at the top of Norway where the sun never sets. And he took along drugs and money that weren't his to take - and The Fisherman wants it back....
A local woman, Lea, and her son Knut, give Jon shelter in an old hunting cabin. But after a few days of the sun never setting, the flat unending landscape and being alone in the small cabin, he craves people - and alcohol. So he heads to the village....
Nesbo's description of the village and the landscape creates an sense of otherworldly isolation that mirrors what Jon is feeling. The eclectic residents and their behavior keeps both Jon and the reader wondering what could happen next.
Even though Jon, aka Ulf, is a 'bad' guy, he's a bad guy with a good streak and a conscience. The reader can't help but hope that he escapes those after him and that maybe, just maybe, he's got another shot at a good life. Sami culture and the Laestadian religion are woven into the story - redemption is a major theme and plays a part in more than one character's life.
I love the noir, staccato pace of Nesbo's writing - think of a Tarantino movie put to print. For me, another great read from Nesbo.
(I have no idea if Nesbo will ever resurrect Harry Hole - but I do miss him.)