Translated by Neil Smith — Well known for his bestselling Harry Hole novels, Jo Nesbo has led his fans down a new avenue of late. Last year’s Blood on Snow was a wonderfully gloomy piece of noir writing, set in the middle of a 1970s winter and featuring a tragic hitman in Oslo. Midnight Sun follows on from Blood on Snow in a loose sense. Once again we have a hitman on the run, but this time it’s the middle of summer and we find ourselves in Kåsund, a village in the far north of Norway.
Jon Hansen has randomly jumped off a bus in this tiny community having escaped one attempt on his life by henchman of the Fisherman – the same Fisherman who tangled with Olav in Blood on Snow. Jon’s fate was sealed when he not only let a debtor off the hook, but absconded with half the money owed. To be honest, Jon fell into the business of death by accident. He’s really a lowly hash dealer, and hasn’t the nerve to punch someone, let alone shoot them.
In Kåsund, he takes the name Ulf and tells the locals that he’s there to hunt… grouse, perhaps. He hasn’t got a rifle so they don’t believe him, but he manages to befriend 10-year-old Knut and the boy’s attractive mother Lea. Her husband is away fishing, but there’s the hint that something terrible has happened to him. Jon borrows a shotgun from Lea, sets himself up in a cabin in the wilderness, and waits. A lone reindeer wanders by and keeps him company as insomnia threatens to erode his sanity.
Blood on Snow and Midnight Sun mark a real progression in Jo Nesbo’s writing. The complex plotting and random tangents that made the Harry Hole books so gripping have been left behind. Now he is writing much tighter stories, cleaner prose, and producing some beautifully poetic passages describing nature, the sea, the bizarre people Jon meets, and the village church. The endless sunshine blends into Jon’s constant fear of death.
To sooth himself, he turns to the local grog, supplied by a Sami man called Mattis. After some rough nights, he finds solace in bonding with young Knut and before long he’s falling in love with Lea. This is madness. He’s a criminal and an atheist, while they belong to the devout Christian Laestradian sect, with fixed ideas about sin and hellfire. And yet a touching relationship develops, and sheds light on the family’s past going right back to the Nazi occupation in World War II.
What starts off with Jon’s desire to live another day becomes his need to love another day. With each sliver of hope fate grants him, he compares his lack of faith to Lea’s devotion. Desperation gradually gives way to hope – hope for a life quite different from that of an Oslo hash dealer. If the Fisherman’s boys find him, that will be the end of it all, but if he’s to get what he wants he’ll have to overcome his flaws and failings… and maybe even kill somebody.
The mark of a good story is when the characters learn something about themselves and change. The mark of a great author is that he or she can tell new stories, try new things, and develop. Jo Nesbo has done that here. Just when you expected another dark and bloody affair, full of desperation and dashed hopes, he turns the entire thing into a convincing love story woven with a thread of noir. Will it have a happy ending? I recommend you read Midnight Sun and find out.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars