Tag Archives: Norwegian

Review: The Land of Dreams by Vidar Sundstøl


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

Review: Pierced by Thomas Enger


PiercedPierced by Thomas Enger (Faber and Faber, 2012)

Blurb: A Convicted Killer: Despite always maintaining his innocence, Tori Pulli, once a powerful player on Oslo’s underground crime scene, has been found guilty of murder.

A Loose End: Scarred reporter Henning Juul is contacted by Pulli, who claims that if Henning can help clear his name he can give him details of who was responsible for the fire which killed his six-year-old son, Jonas.

A Double Threat: Desperate to continue his own search for justice, Henning realises that the information Pulli promises is life threatening, to both of them and to others. As events take a deadly turn, Henning finds himself on the trail of two killers for whom the stakes have never been higher…


Henning Juul, an investigative journalist, is still recovering from the fire that killed his son Jonas and tore apart his marriage. He’s back at work, and he’s learned to live with the fact that his ex-wife, also a journalist, is dating his colleague Iver Gundersen. Then he gets the offer that changes everything: If you help me clear my name, I’ll tell you who killed your son.

Henning is a fantastic character. For the past two years he has lived with the guilt of his son’s death, which is exacerbated by his loss of memory of the weeks that preceded it: Could he have done anything to prevent the fire? Did he leave the door unlocked? Was the fire deliberately set? Pulli’s offer is one he absolutely cannot refuse.

As with many Nordic crime novels, the big picture in this novel is made up of several interwoven threads: Henning, the reporter who soon finds himself trying to solve not one, but two murders; Tori Pulli, the underworld figure who claims he has information about Henning’s son; Thorleif Brenden, a cameraman and devoted father who through no fault of his own is thrust into a murder conspiracy.

This is a richly layered story, expertly plotted, full of twists and turns. It’s well written and well translated, with vivid descriptions and language that is both natural and fresh.

This is the second book in a series that began with Burned, and although that book is well worth reading, this book does stand on its own. It also does a very good job of setting up the next book in the series, which I believe is called Scarred, with hints that the fire was some sort of warning to Henning—but what was he being warned about? And by whom? I hope the next book comes out soon!


My rating: 4 stars

Review: The Bat by Jo Nesbø


TheBatThe Bat by Jo Nesbø (Vintage, 2013), Book 1 of the Harry Hole series

Blurb: Inspector Harry Hole of the Oslo Crime Squad is dispatched to Sydney to observe a murder case.  Harry is free to offer assistance, but he has firm instructions to stay out of trouble. The victim is a twenty-three year old Norwegian woman who is a minor celebrity back home. Never one to sit on the sidelines, Harry befriends one of the lead detectives, and one of the witnesses, as he is drawn deeper into the case.  Together, they discover that this is only the latest in a string of unsolved murders, and the pattern points toward a psychopath working his way across the country. As they circle closer and closer to the killer, Harry begins to fear that no one is safe, least of all those investigating the case.

Generally speaking, I prefer to start with the first book when I’m reading a series. I first picked up one of Jo Nesbø’s books purely by chance; I was staying in a hotel that had a huge book exchange and happened upon The Redbreast. That was my introduction to Harry Hole—and indeed to Nordic fiction beyond Smilla and Lisbeth Salander—and this continues to be a favorite series for me, with Harry Hole being an iconic figure in Nordic crime fiction. The Bat, the first book in the series, is finally available in the U.S. It’s a good debut, a very good debut, but having read six books in the series, each of them written and published after this one, I find myself comparing it to Nesbø’s later, more polished work, which I think is probably a bit unfair. At the same time, it’s wonderful to finally have the full story of Harry’s visit to Australia because those events have a major impact on Hole’s life and career and are referred to throughout the series, and it’s been frustrating not to be able to find out what happened.

Harry Hole has just arrived in Sydney to assist in the investigation of the murder of a Norwegian woman. He’s newly sober, and this is an opportunity for him to take stock of his life and try to get his career back on track. I enjoyed getting to know young, idealistic, and even—dare I say it—happy Harry, who still believed in love and the future and the possibility of a successful career. He meets some amazing characters in Australia (which is such a far cry from gloomy Scandinavia that the very feel of the book is different from the later books in the series). Working with the Australian police, Harry navigates the twists and turns of what turns out to be a surprisingly complex mystery. As with his later books, Nesbø is able to integrate multiple subplots into a cohesive whole; however, unlike his later books, this one is told almost exclusively from Harry’s POV, which makes it a little simpler than later books in the series (which, again, makes sense for a debut).

Alas, as always seems to be the case with Harry, things fall apart—and thus continues Harry’s struggle with his demons and his endless downward spiral. And even though I knew what was going to happen in Harry’s life (the frustrating part of translating books 1 and 2 only after books 3-9 were translated), I found myself hoping that he’d avoid temptation. Of course, then he wouldn’t be the dark, tortured Harry Hole who’s kept so many readers so intrigued over the years.

If you enjoy dark Nordic crime fiction and haven’t read any of Jo Nesbø’s books, I would suggest starting with this one. While the plots of the books aren’t necessarily interconnected, the central focus of the series is Harry Hole, and Nesbø has done a brilliant job of character development, as well as increasingly complex plot lines, and it would help to start at the beginning of all of that rather than hopscotching around. The Cockroaches, the second book in the series, should be available soon in English, which makes me very happy indeed.

This book was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

My rating: 4 stars

Review: Burned by Thomas Enger


BurnedBurned by Thomas Enger (Faber and Faber, 2011)

Blurb: Henning Juul is a veteran investigative crime reporter in Oslo, Norway. A horrific fire killed his six-year-old son, cut scars across his face, and ended his marriage, and on his first day back at the job after the terrible tragedy a body is discovered in one of the city’s public parks. A beautiful female college student has been stoned to death and buried up to her neck, her body left bloody and exposed. The brutality of the crime shakes the whole country, but despite his own recent trauma – and the fact that his ex-wife’s new boyfriend is also on the case – Henning is given the assignment. When the victim’s boyfriend, a Pakistani native, is arrested, Henning feels certain the man is innocent. This was not simply a Middle Eastern-style honor killing in the face of adultery – it was a far more complicated gesture, and one that will drag Henning into a darkness he’s never dreamed of.


I picked up this book because it bore the inevitable sticker proclaiming Enger to be “the next Steig Larssen.” Now, I enjoyed the Larssen’s Millennium trilogy, but to be honest, while I love Lisbeth Salander, I don’t think those books represent the best of Nordic crime fiction. Burned, on the other hand, does.

Henning Juul is a truly scarred man, both inside and out. He is tormented by nightmares about the fire that killed his son and he holds to the belief that the fire was intentional—to believe otherwise would burden him with a guilt that would be unbearable. Two years after the fire, he has finally gone back to work as a reporter for an Internet news site, only to find that the world has moved on without him: one of his colleagues is involved with Henning’s ex-wife Nora; his new boss is a woman Henning had once hired as a temporary assistant; many of his contacts and sources are no longer taking his calls.

His first assignment is the murder of a young university student, ostensibly at the hands of her Pakistani boyfriend. However, as Henning quickly discovers, with this case, nothing is as it appears on the surface. Slowly but surely Henning is able to end his self-imposed exile, and through his contact with an old (and very knowledgeable) online source, his colleagues, and his ex-wife, we are able to see glimpses of the capable and bright reporter that Henning was before the fire. This is not merely a flawed character; this is a complex, emotionally damaged man who has a lot of potential as this series progresses. Enger has written a compelling, well-plotted crime story that is full of surprises. This series is going on auto-buy for me.


My rating: 4 stars

Review: Death of the Demon by Anne Holt


DeathoftheDemonDeath of the Demon by Anne Holt (Scribner, 2013)

Blurb: In an orphanage outside Oslo, a twelve-year-old boy is causing havoc. The institution’s aging director, Agnes Vestavik, sees something chilling in Olav’s eyes: sheer hatred. When Vestavik is found murdered at her desk late at night, stabbed in the neck with a kitchen knife—with Olav nowhere to be found—the case goes to maverick investigator Hanne Wilhelmsen, recently promoted to superintendent in the Oslo police. Hanne suspects that Olav witnessed the murder and fled, and she orders an investigation of the orphanage staff. But Hanne is hopeless at delegating, hopeless at pooling information, hopeless at sharing responsibilities. Only Hanne’s supreme deductive skills keep her on the job; this, however, is one case where her instincts are leading her astray.

Meanwhile, Olav makes his way to his once-unfit mother’s apartment in central Oslo. When police finally catch up to him, Olav will lead them on a chase that will upend all of their assumptions. A dark and captivating new chapter in this brilliant, rollicking series, Death of the Demon examines that murky intersection between crime and justice.

This, the third book in the Hanne Wilhelmsen series, tells the interlocking stories of the inhabitants of a foster home in Norway. A central figure is Olav, the young and out-of-control boy whose disappearance fuels speculation that he has committed the horrible murder of the foster home’s director. But as Hanne and her detectives investigate further, they discover a web of lies: secret lovers, embezzlement, larceny. With so many suspects, it’s difficult to determine who is guilty of what.

Hanne continues to be a brilliant detective but a poor manager, not only of her detectives but of her own life. She remains a closeted lesbian, which causes friction with her partner and with her colleagues—who aren’t quite sure why she’s so secretive about her private life—and which shapes her view of motherhood (itself a central concept in the novel).

As always, Holt shifts POV between characters, giving each a unique voice and adding depth to their personalities. Her ability to layer the procedural details of the investigation with the emotional responses of the characters makes this a series to follow.

This ARC was provided by Scribner via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

My rating: 4 stars

Review: Blessed Are Those Who Thirst by Anne Holt


Blessed Are ThoseBlessed Are Those Who Thirst by Anne Holt (Scribner, 2012)

Blurb:  It is only the beginning of May but in Oslo a brutal heat wave has coincided with an alarming increase in violent crime. In the latest instance, police investigator Hanne Wilhelmsen is sent to a macabre crime scene on the outskirts of town. An abandoned shed is covered in blood. On one wall an eight-digit number is written in blood. There is no body—nor any sign of a victim. Is it a kid’s prank or foul play? Is it even human blood?

As more bloody numbers are found in isolated locations throughout Oslo, Hanne’s colleague Håkon Sand makes a startling discovery: the digits correspond to the filing numbers of foreign immigrants. All are female, all are missing. Is there a serial killer on the loose in Oslo? How does the killer have access to immigrant data?

Meanwhile, as the trail heats up, the victim of a horrific unsolved rape case and her father have each decided to take justice into their own hands. Hanne and Håkon soon discover that they aren’t the only ones on the hunt for the killer.


Although the translation is fairly new, the book is not; it was first published in Norway in 1994. I point that out not because the book seems dated but because it does not—the theme of immigration and its impact on Nordic society runs through Nordic crime fiction, and it’s especially interesting for me as an American to see this kind of commentary on the impact of generous refugee policies on a previously homogeneous, liberal society.

Oslo is experiencing both a heat wave and a crime wave—although strictly speaking, though the police are investigating multiple blood-drenched crime scenes, without any bodies, they have no corresponding crimes to investigate.

Hanne Wilhelmsen is exhausted. With so many violent crimes to investigate, she’s working too much, and although she relaxes by taking long rides on her rose-colored Harley-Davidson, the strain of keeping her fifteen-year lesbian relationship a secret is draining her. Her colleague, Håkan Sand, has a similar balancing act; he must keep secret his ongoing affair with Karen Borg, his married colleague. Kristine Håverstad is the latest rape victim. Assaulted in her own apartment, she retreats to her childhood home in her father’s house, where he and she silently—and independently—plot revenge against her attacker, whose identity they manage to uncover at the same time as the police.

At only 211 pages, the book is short and fast-paced. Holt provides some insight into Wilhelmsen and Sand, but where this book shines is its depictions of the victims: Kristine Håverstad, crippled by shame and hopelessness; Finn Håverstad, driven by tremendous guilt and helplessness; and the Iranian asylum seeker who lives in the apartment beneath Kristine’s and whose fate is in the hands of the Norwegian bureaucracy. Holt is able to maintain a sense of tension and unease right up until the very last page.


My rating: 4 stars