It was more effort than I had expected, to find “a book set in Europe”. Maybe I was going about it wrong, or maybe I was narrowing myself down too much. For the first round of the Reading Challenge, I stumbled into the category with The Girl on The Train. It was a New York Times bestseller, about to become a movie, that just happened to be set in Europe. For the Bonus Round, my internet searches for “books set in Europe” turned up works by Charles Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and even Utopia. But I wanted to read something contemporary, something fiction, and also something I hadn’t read before.
I narrowed my search down to “novels set in England”, “novels set in The Netherlands”, “novels set in Portugal”, and so on. I was finding travel journals, romance novels¹, and historic fiction – but not stories about modern European life. What was I doing wrong? Why didn’t I know any modern European novels? I moved north to Scandinavia, and, of course, found the Lisbeth Salander trilogy – which I’ve read and loved. But I also found Jo Nesbø, an author I was familiar with, but had never read. I put Midnight Sun on hold at the library.
Mere blod, by Jo Nesbø, was published in 2015. It was translated into English that same year by Neil Smith as Midnight Sun.
A man calling himself Ulf takes a bus to the Finnmark plateau, in northern Norway, above the Artic Circle. He gets off at the tiny village of Kåsund, entirely at random. He tells the Sámi people living there that he’s there to do some hunting. Everyone in Kåsund shows Ulf generous hospitality, and no one seems to doubt his story, even though he has no hunting equipment. (Or, maybe they do doubt his story, but don’t care.)
A young boy named Knut finds Ulf sleeping in the village church (there are no inns or even rooms to rent in Kåsund) and befriends him. Knut and his mother take Ulf home and loan him a hunting rifle, asking only that Ulf pay them back for the ammunition he uses. Knut takes Ulf to the village store, where Ulf buys supplies. (Ulf has a large amount of cash with him, as well as a pistol.) Knut then leads Ulf to the hunting lodge, where he is welcome to stay.
Of course, Ulf didn’t come to the Finnmark plateau to hunt. His name isn’t really Ulf, either. The only truthful thing he’s told Knut, and the rest Kåsund, so far, is that he’s from Oslo.
Ulf’s name is actually Jon. He used to be a fixer for a drug lord known as the Fisherman. It was his job to collect outstanding debts. He killed people when asked to. And even that isn’t entirely true.
Midnight Sun is a basic story of a criminal who has stolen from his boss, and is now hiding out in the most remote place he can think of. There’s more to this book than that, however.
The story is told in the first-person by Ulf. We follow his thoughts and feelings as he fumbles his way through a life of crime. He narrates his life in the harsh, quiet openness of Finnmark, among the devout Læstadian Sámi, and his growing friendship with Knut and Lea (Knut’s recently widowed mother, the daughter of the town’s minister).
Midnight Sun is an enjoyable mix of crime drama, romance (not much of a spoiler, really), and culture.
- A book set in Europe
¹I have nothing against romance novels. It just wasn’t what I thought I was in the mood for.