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Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Land of Dreams by Vidar Sundstøl

University of Minnesota, 344 pages, $24.95
Translated by Tiina Nunnally

Lance Hansen is a "forest cop." He's a real policeman but his normal beat is the woods of northern Minnesota, chasing illegal campers, for instance, like a park ranger. His personal passion is the historical material of the area's Norwegian, Swedish, and Finnish population. Sometimes it appears that he knows more about everyone's ancestral past than their present.

It is Lance who discovers the body of a naked man, murdered in the woods. It turns out that he was a Norwegian tourist. He and his friend had been canoeing and camping in the woods on vacation.

In a slow-moving fashion, Norwegian author Vidar Sundstøl lets Lance wander between past and present, drawing comparisons between the current murder and one he concludes happened during his great-grandmother's time. Drawing on slim information, Lance tries to solve the disappearance about a hundred and fifty years ago of an Ojibway medicine man. And although he's not directly involved in the Norwegian man's murder case, Lance nevertheless provokes others in the investigation to consider his involvement.

One of the men who definitely is involved in the murder case is a Norwegian detective, Eirik Nyland, flown over to help interrogate the remaining camper. He intuits Lance's basic goodness. Lance recognizes he must seem provincial to Nyland, whom he respects. The two form a firm but distant bond. What, thinks Nyland, is Lance hiding?

And that's the main question of the book. What is Lance hiding? What has Lance discovered in the past that would shed light on the crime in the present? What is Lance's moral dilemma?

Sundstøl has won an award in Norway for his "Minnesota trilogy," of which The Land of Dreams is the first volume. Maybe because this is the first book of a trilogy, I felt there was an unfinished edge to it. Lance's reluctance, vulnerability, and tenuous conclusions swallow up the story. I was left with a sense of anticipation and hope that there's something with a more concrete conclusion to come.

In many ways, The Land of Dreams reminds me of Craig Johnson's and William Kent Krueger's stories because of their use of Indian legend and mysticism. Many years ago, Lance had a dream of standing at the bottom of ice-cold Lake Superior and has not had a remembered dream since. He feels it's as though a dreamcatcher has bound up his dreams, dammed them, and he's waiting for the day they will be released. Perhaps the other books will be about those dreams.

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