Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Review of The Land of Dreams by Vidar Sundstol (Norwegian 2008; Minnesota Press, 2013)

Lance Hansen is a cop working for the U.S. Forest Service on the shore of Lake Superior, policing hunting, fishing and camping infringements.  He’s also a keen local historian and genealogist.  Following up a tip on an illegal campsite Lance discovers a naked man covered in blood.  A short distance away is the body of a Norwegian tourist, his head bashed in.  The case is passed on to the FBI and a Norwegian detective, Eirik Nyland, flies in from Oslo to help with the case.  Wondering if anyone else has ever been murdered before in the area, Hansen starts to search through his archive, becoming convinced that a century before a local Ojibwe tribe member was killed by one his ancestors.  He also suspects that a more immediate family member might have murdered the Norwegian.  Troubled by his discoveries he skirts around the fringes of the investigation, unsure as to his feelings or what to do.

The Land of Dreams is the first in a trilogy of stories about the investigation into the death of a Norwegian tourist and its aftermath, along with a possible murder of an Ojibwe Indian a century earlier, set on the Minnesotan shore of Lake Superior, and focusing on the troubled Forest service cop and local historian, Lance Hansen.  By spreading the story over three books, Sundstol takes a somewhat bold and unconventional approach as it means the first book is required to be only partially resolved.  That said, the book does come to natural end; one that leaves the reader pondering some intriguing questions about family, loyalty, integrity and identity.  Indeed, over the course of the tale it was interesting to follow a cop becoming increasingly troubled, wrestling with his conscience as his sense of self and work is compromised.  This was a strength of the tale, along with its characterisation, and the strong sense of place and history.  That said, the telling was a little uneven, with chunks of the text swapping from storytelling to extended history lessons.  History, I think, always works best in stories when it is emerges through the narrative rather than being inserted into it.  Overall, an interesting, thoughtful and engaging tale.

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