For those mystery lovers who reveled in Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole series, his new stand-alone novel Midnight Sun will be a bit of a surprise. Midnight Sun is easier on the blood pressure than Harry, with a sympathetic protagonist and the wooded setting of Norway’s remote Finnmark province, home to Norway’s indigenous Laplanders, also known as the Sami people.
Ulf is on the run from an Oslo drug kingpin named The Fisherman and gets off the bus in the Sami village of Kasund. It’s a random choice but a lucky break: Ulf meets Lea and her son Knut who buy his story of coming for the grouse hunting. Ulf is soon installed in a hunting cabin with the rifle of Lea’s late husband, thought to be drowned at sea.
As Ulf considers what to do next, his backstory unfolds. It includes a drug-dealing past, his daughter’s death from leukemia, and his inability to shoot a rival dealer. He’s got a pile of money from the rival dealer, which The Fisherman wants back, and Ulf knows the hunt is on until The Fisherman sees Ulf’s dead body.
Like The Blackhouse by Peter May, I had the feeling that Nesbo wanted to write about a place and people that get little attention. He did so very well, using Ulf as the outsider looking in and sharing his experiences with us. Nesbo serves up great local color: the reindeer scratching its antlers against the cabin, the sun shining at all hours, the Sami’s homemade hooch and 3-day celebrations. Nesbo also gives us a window into a local brand of puritanical Christianity that both helps and hinders Ulf’s situation.
The plot was hugely satisfying, if largely linear and without the heft of the Harry Hole series. I would have liked more about the remote Finnmark plateau; the harshness of the weather, the psychological impact of 24 hour days so close to the Arctic Circle, the (only hinted at) tension between the Sami people and central government in Oslo.
Verdict: A nicely paced thriller with a unique and absorbing setting.