Book review: Unsatisfying end to a trilogy


Christine Foster Meloni
Washington, D.C.

The Ravens is the third and final book of Vidar Sundstøl’s fictional Minnesota Trilogy. The English translation will hit bookstores on April 15, and Vidar Sundstøl will be touring Minnesota in support of its release.

In the first book of the trilogy, The Land of Dreams, Norwegian-American forest ranger Lance Hansen sets out to solve two murders on Minnesota’s North Shore. One, the brutal murder of a young Norwegian tourist, occurs in the opening chapters of the book. The other, the murder of Swamper Caribou, an Ojibwa medicine man, took place over 100 years earlier. Neither murder is solved in the first novel.

The second book, Only the Dead, picks up where The Land of Dreams leaves off. The murder of Swamper is solved but that of the Norwegian tourist is not, although the finger seems to point at one person in particular.

In The Ravens, several more suspects for the murder of the Norwegian tourist appear and the situation becomes much more complicated. Lance seems to have gone off the deep end and is having trouble maintaining his sanity. In fact, at the beginning of the novel, he seems on the verge of a nervous breakdown and drops out of sight for a few months. He begins to dream again (he claims he has not had a dream in seven years) and his dreams unsettle him, shaking him to the core. He finds no peace and, after coming out of hiding, he is continually on the move, desperately searching for clues to prove the guilt of the person he is certain is responsible.

Lance talks with his Ojibwa ex-father-in-law Willy, his brother Andy’s family, and his old girlfriend Debbie. He visits Lenny Driver, the official suspect, in jail. He interrogates a retired sheriff and calls the Norwegian agent in Oslo who participated in the early stages of the investigation. He leaves no stone unturned and constantly lives in fear because he believes that he is being stalked by the murderer and that he will soon die.

The identity of the murderer is at last revealed in the final pages. After reading through three books to finally learn who killed the Norwegian and why, the conclusion is disappointing. Was the tourist really murdered for that reason by that person? What a letdown!

The trilogy offers a marvelous description of the North Shore and the area’s history with its various populations of Indians, French, and Norwegians. But the plot leaves something to be desired.

One should keep in mind that Sundstøl is a Norwegian author, writing primarily for a Norwegian audience. What struck Sunstøl very powerfully—the breathtaking landscape, the dramatic weather, and the remarkable devotion of the Norwegian Americans for their Norwegian heritage—will perhaps also stir his target audience as well as others unfamiliar with Minnesota. Many readers may be less interested in the plot and be more captivated by Sundstøl’s evocative descriptions of the Land of Dreams.

This article originally appeared in the April 3, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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Christine Foster Meloni

Christine Foster Meloni is professor emerita at The George Washington University. She has degrees in Italian literature, linguistics, and international education. She was born in Minneapolis and currently lives in Washington, D.C. She values her Norwegian heritage.