Jo Nesbø wanted to write a book unlike his usual noir detective stories starring the ragged but morally straight Harry Hole. Nesbø says that he has always admired the Sámi cultural group (we know them as Laplanders) who occupy the northernmost reaches of Scandinavia including his home nation of Norway. The Sámi’s are hunters and reindeer herders and fishermen and, too often, drinkers. Their numbers are small and their towns are too, so most Sámi’s in a given community know each other well. Strangers do not visit the Sámi’s often. The climate is harsh; the sun is either low-in- the-sky and omnipresent, or is totally missing in action. These towns are not normally tourist destinations.
So when a “southerner” turns up in a Sámi town one day when the sun is still out at midnight townspeople guess that he may be on the run from something, but they don’t make a big deal of it. Jon’s first acquaintance when he gets off the bus in the town of Kasund is a native man called Mattis who, when asked says he can sleep in the church. Jon is obviously out of place. Mattis doesn’t even know the half of it, although he suspects. Jon has a gun tucked in the back of his pants. He is hiding a money belt full of stolen money. He is not a bad man really, but he is not a good man either. He is from Oslo and he is running away. He is running away more or less because of what he has not done than because of what he has done. He has suffered a great loss, but he is still trying to fight for his own life, although he is not sure why. He tells the man that his name is Ulf and that he came to hunt and he goes off to sleep in the church.
Then he meets Knut who is ten and his beautiful mother Lea who helps him before he even knows her name. She loans him her husband’s hunting rifle and hunting cabin. She’s a very good person whose father is a preacher in the very strict Læstadian Christian sect which is common among the Sámi people. Her husband is fishing but Ulf senses there is more to the story of this husband and wife than he is hearing.
Jon/Ulf is an unusual character for Nesbø to write about. He has a reputation as a killer but he has not actually killed anyone. He is a thief only because when he had to run he ran with a drug dealer’s money because it was there and it would have been stupid not to take it (although it was also stupid to take it). Jon worked for a low-life crime boss with a fearful reputation, called the Fisherman. The Fisherman does not let anyone who works for him do the things that Jon has done, or not do the things that Jon has not done.
Jon needed a large sum of money for a good reason, although I will not tell you what it was. I will tell you that I enjoyed Jon’s sojourn with the Sámi and the tale is certainly a departure for Jo Nesbø and I can also say that I think you might enjoy it. His Harry Hole books connect with those of us who live in modern cities much more than this short novel does, but the book is a nice tribute to the Sámi people and it is totally fair for an author to use his clout to bring this isolated group of people into our hearts and minds.
By Nancy Brisson