As a fan of crime fiction, I’ve long been interested in exploring some of the popular Scandinavian crime writers, but there’s so much to choose from! And so many of the big-name writers write long series that I’m not particularly interested in committing to right now. I’d rather start with a sampling, a one-off. And so, when I saw this (sort of) standalone novel by Jo Nesbø and translated by Neil Smith was available for review, I decided to take the opportunity to give him a try.
I say that Midnight Sun is sort of a standalone novel because it is linked to the novel Blood on Snow. But from what I can tell, the main link is that the two books involve the same Oslo crime syndicate, led by a sinister figure known as “The Fisherman.” The narrator of this novel, Jon, was briefly—and almost accidentally—a fixer for The Fisherman, but now he’s on the run, having betrayed The Fisherman by letting one of his debtors live.
Jon ends up in a remote village on the Finnmark plateau populated by the indigenous Sámi people and a strict sect of Christians. Ten-year-old Knut, who finds Jon asleep in the church, is quick to declare that Jon, who now calls himself Ulf, will burn in hell for not being one of them. But Knut and his mother, Lea, end up helping Jon, making sure he has shelter and food. They and a Sámi man named Mattis draw him little by little into the village life. But Jon/Ulf is plagued by both conscience and fear—fear for himself and eventually for Lea and Knut.
I’m sorry to say that although the story was absorbing at times, I found most of it too heavy-handed to really enjoy. The treatment of religion was particularly obnoxious, both because of Jon’s anti-religion tirades and his eventual softening toward the end. The arguments were all by-the-numbers and too simplistic for me to take seriously. And although I appreciated the way some of the characters evolved, their thinking seemed shallow all the way through.
So, too, did the romance. Because of course the hit man on the run would fall in love with the apparently widowed and beleaguered mom with the quirky son. The romance in itself is not enough to turn me against the book, but the beats that it follows were too predictable, right down to the obligatory love triangle that crops up.
The writing also didn’t impress me much. It wasn’t particularly bad, but it was mostly bland. Here, for instance, is how we’re introduced to the Finnmark landscape:
There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and the air was so clear that I felt I could see a very long way. As far as the eye can see, as the expression goes. They say that the Finnmark plateau is beautiful. Fucked if I know. Isn’t that just the sort of thing people say about inhospitable places?
I did smile at his observation here about the nature of beauty, but I never did feel drawn into the landscape. I don’t read crime fiction for landscape descriptions, but I do love how so many crime writers pay such attention to detail. That wasn’t the case here. The descriptions felt perfunctory, just as the plot did. It’s not bad, but there’s nothing fresh and interesting about this book.
So with all that said, I feel comfortable crossing Nesbø off my list as an author who’s just not for me. I still want to try Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s series someday, and although I didn’t absolutely love the one Henning Mankell novel I read, I liked it enough to be willing to try again—one of these days.
I received an e-galley of this book for review consideration via Edelweiss.