Review: The Land of Dreams by Vidar Sundstøl

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The Land of DreamsThe Land of Dreams by Vidar Sundstøl (University of Minnesota Press, 2013)

Blurb: 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.

The Land of Dreams is the opening chapter in a sweeping chronicle from one of Norway’s leading crime writers—a portrait of an extraordinary landscape, an exploration of hidden traumas and paths of silence that trouble history, and a haunting study in guilt and the bonds of blood.

 

The Land of Dreams is a psychological mystery story, and most of the narrative is the introspection of the main character, Lance Hansen. When he discovers the body of a murdered Norwegian tourist, Hansen begins a process of questioning, not so much about the current murder but about the past, about his family and the other immigrants who settled on the shores of Lake Superior, the stories that have been handed down for generations. The present and the past become intertwined as he discovers that many of the local legends that are accepted as truth by residents and tourists alike might not have happened quite the way he’s been led to believe.

The Lake Superior setting and the region’s history are integral to the story, which has its benefits and its drawbacks. As one of the characters discovers, “neither Lance Hansen nor the story about Baraga’s Cross had any place in Eirik Nyland’s world. They would lose all luster and weight. Both belonged here, in Cook County.” What is true for the character is also true for the reader. Hansen’s introspection is so lengthy and detailed that it comes across more as a history text than a mystery novel; the murder investigation takes place mostly in the background, and Hansen focuses more on his family than he does on the case.

This is the first book in a trilogy, and as such it does not really stand on its own. Someone is arrested and charged with the murder of the tourist, but Hansen is not convinced of that person’s guilt, and it’s unclear where the trilogy will go from here, whether Hansen’s unease will drive his actions in the other books in the series, if he will see Nyland again, or if he will again spend most of his time immersed in the past. The book’s ending left me satisfied enough that I likely won’t continue with the series.

 

This book was furnished by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

My rating: 3 stars

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4 responses »

    • The focus on the region’s history and the main character’s history created too much of a distance for me; the murder investigation was in the background, and the characters weren’t compelling enough that the ambiguity of the ending makes me want a better resolution. The writing is good, but the book just wasn’t for me. I’m curious to read your review!

  1. I didn’t mind this one though it’s unlike what I usually like (I like more forward-momentum in a plot), and I think it’s because I live in another Great Lakes state. I’ve dug around for reviews of other books in the series, and they don’t sound great to me. I think Hansen is trying to catch his brother in the next one, but Google Translate may have butchered the review.

    • I felt a bit claustrophobic as I read the book, almost as though I were trapped in the main character’s mind. I haven’t really seen any info on the other books. If they look interesting, I might go ahead and read them.

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