More blood? #NordicFINDS23

© C A Lovegrove

Midnight Sun by Jo Nesbø,
Mere Blod (2015)
translated by Neil Smith.
Vintage Books, 2016.

Finnmark is the furthest north you can go in Norway, further from the capital than Oslo itself is from London or Paris, so what reason has southerner Jon Hansen for being here? Is he really here to hunt grouse as he claims, or is he himself being hunted?

Nesbø knew this area in the 1970s and so its able to give his descriptions of the desolate Finnmark coastal countryside an especial realism for a thriller set in the same period. And the isolated Sámi communities – either engaged in herding or fishing, and either strict Protestant or traditional in their beliefs – mean any visiting strangers will understandably elicit a degree of curiosity.

Ulf – as Hansen says he’s called – gradually reveals details of his sordid Oslo life in this first person narrative, and we gradually piece together how precarious his position now is. And all is complicated by the fact that he is starting to feel an attachment to one individual in the community, and developing an easy relationship with that individual’s young son, Knut.

Tungus shaman, engraving by Nicholaas Witsen, 1785

It’s August in Finnmark, and thus a land of the midnight sun. While people observe the usual diurnal sleep patterns there it’s hard for Jon, or rather Ulf, not to feel on the alert all the time for his nemesis, sent by a drug lord in Oslo to seek retribution, to make his inevitable appearance. As ‘fixer’ for ‘the Fisherman’ Jon has somehow bungled a job, and his hope is that remaining isolated in a hunter’s hut he’ll be able to stave off what’s coming. But for sanity’s sake he can’t resist gravitating towards the village, however much that puts him at risk.

Midnight Sun is a real page-turner, the English translation fluent enough for there to be no stumbles on the part of the reader. Though there’s a degree of predictability to some outcomes – Hansen is alive to tell the tale at the end, for example – there’s sufficient threat for us never to be certain all might be well. That threat comes in various forms, not least that this area – home to Sámi and Norwegians but prey to both German and Russian ambitions during World War II – still feels vulnerable a little over twenty or so years after the conflict.

There’s tragedy and violence here, but also humour and loyalty in plenteous evidence, and for all his flaws – and they are legion – the protagonist comes across as likeable, someone with whom people want to make friends. As a result we want him to survive and do well even though he seems to – figuratively speaking – continually shoot himself in the foot.

Nesbø slips in occasional incidents and images that feel a touch symbolic or otherwise significant – I’m thinking particularly of an episode with a reindeer skin which reminds me of the traditional garb donned by Sámi shamans when embarking on their trance journeys; but Midnight Sun is above all a cleverly paced novel which ensures that I’d be quite happy to pick up another Nesbø offering in the future.

Nordic FINDS 2023:

A Norwegian novel read for Annabel’s Nordic FINDS event. For Bookforager’s Picture Prompt Book Bingo this thriller qualifies for the pistol icon

16 thoughts on “More blood? #NordicFINDS23

  1. Interesting, Chris. The only Nesbo I tried was one of his crime novels, and it was so violent that I actually abandoned Scandi-Crime because I was sick of the violence against women. This sounds like a completely different kettle of fish, though!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is, I think, significantly different (though I haven’t read any other Nesbø before this) because the woman who comes to the fore is definitely proactive, and one of the protagonist’s saving graces is that he was deeply concerned about his daughter.

      I’m sorry your experience of his writing wasn’t good – I think I may have to select any other Nesbø novel to read with due care as to content!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. That sharpness certainly comes across here, Cathy, the drollness only occasionally! This is the second in the ‘Blood on Snow’ series (two so far, I’ve not read the first) and separate from the Harry Hole books. I’m not a huge fan of testosterone-fuelled thrillers, by the way, but the protagonist Jon/Ulf isn’t at all an Action Man – which I thought made him a more sympathetic figure than otherwise.


    1. I found this more psychological than visceral, Mallika –.and I’m definitely squeamish! – so I don’t think you’d find it too noir for you (though I can’t speak for any of Nesbø’s other titles). 🙂


  2. I’m with Kaggsy – I gave up on Nesbo because of the violence and general bleakness and Harry Hole’s eternal drunkenness, but this does sound rather different. Maybe his non-Hole books aren’t quite so dark.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, I’m glad this was my entry point for Nesbø and not the Harry Hole books – Jon Hansen comes across as a weak and essentially non-violent individual but one with an instinct for living, and he’s a gentleman where the opposite sex are concerned – well, by modern standards anyway; and though he does over-imbibe on one or two occasions he’s not really an alcoholic. The first in this mini-series, Blood on Snow, apparently has a different protagonist, one described as an antihero, so I don’t know if that’s any less violent than this. Possibly not. 😬

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Reading the comments have helped, Chris. I thought it might be too violent for my taste. I could never get through THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATOO because of that. I could handle psychological, maybe. Mayne I’ll wait until summer.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ve never been attracted to the Larsson books because of their violent reputation, nor am I inclined to watch the films. However, I thought this seemed a more atmospheric novel, sympthetic to the Saami people and involving a petty drug dealer who’d got in over his head and was now trying to avoid the inevitable knock on the door. So, cue suspense and tension, but also gentle humour and decency.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This sounds interesting. I’ve read a few of the Harry Hole series by Nesbo but haven’t been back to it recently for some reason. You’re doing well with Book Bingo too. I’m still on my first book of the year and hoping I’ll manage to find a picture for it once I’m done.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like novels where I get a sense of the environment in which the action plays out, and that’s the case here. In a note Nesbø tells us that Finnmark, bordering the Lapland region of Finland, was where he spent time in the 1970s, and that appears to give parts of this novel an almost autobiographical feel as well as a sense of a particular time and place, which I appreciated over and above the thriller element.

      This is the first time I adopted FictionFan’s Book Bingo, and that partly because it reminded me of the symbols in Lyra’s alethiometer! So having two squares done so early is quite encouraging. 🙂 Good luck with yours!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. The only Nesbo I’ve read is one of his crime thrillers, The Snowman, a creepy and at times violent story. It was a book club choice and one I wouldn’t normally select but despite all of that I did find it a gripping read. This one sounds interesting. Thanks, Chris, I’m tempted now!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The violence here is minimal, Anne, a knife in a drunken brawl, a couple of shots – it’s mostly about menace and suspense, waiting and anticipating, all symbolised I suppose by the summer sun always dipping down to but never quite going below the horizon, as August gives way to the colder seasons. Be tempted!

      Liked by 2 people

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