The mystery of “The Devil’s Wedding Ring”
Christine Foster Meloni
Vidar Sundstøl made his mark in the U.S. with his Minnesota Trilogy. While living in northern Minnesota with his American wife, he wrote his three-volume fictional mystery about the murder of a Norwegian tourist, a case that was finally solved by a Norwegian-American park ranger.
His latest mystery takes place in Norway, but it has a U.S. connection. The protagonist is Norwegian Max Fjellanger, who emigrates to Florida after marrying an American woman. He has lived in the States for almost 30 years, working as a private investigator. He decides to return to Norway to attend the funeral of his good friend, Knut Abrahamsen.
Max and Knut became close friends when they were young fellow police officers. Max, however, was involved in a case that made him decide that he was not cut out to be in the police force and he resigned. Later Knut too resigned, apparently under unpleasant circumstances. Although Knut’s recent death was ruled a suicide because he had been found drowned in a river with his pockets full of rocks, Max is unconvinced. Although he had planned to return to the U.S. immediately after the funeral, he decides to change his airplane ticket so that he can try to find the truth about his friend’s death.
Finding the truth turns out to be an extremely complicated and dangerous endeavor. Early on, Max begins to suspect that Knut’s death is related in some way to an ancient fertility cult connected to the Midsommer celebrations of the 13th-century stave church in Eidsborg, Telemark.
Sundstøl adopts the literary device favored by popular Swedish crime writer, Camilla Läckberg, whose protagonist can solve contemporary crimes only by first solving earlier ones. (He also uses this device in the Minnesota Trilogy.)
In 1985, student Peter Schram, who is researching the pagan rituals of the Eidsborg church, disappears under mysterious circumstances on Midsommer’s Eve. Exactly 30 years later, another student researcher, Cecilie Wiborg, also disappears without a trace on Midsommer’s Eve.
Max soon meets librarian Tirill Vesterli and discovers that she has long had an interest in the two disappearances. They form an unofficial investigative team. Their list of suspects immediately becomes quite lengthy. Is one person responsible for all three deaths or are more people involved?
Could Julia Bergmann, the church’s German pastor, be involved? Or Johannes Liom, the church’s museum director? Maybe Henrick Thue, the professor who has written books about the church and had an affair with Cecilie? Perhaps Thue’s wife, Åse, who is insanely jealous and seems too eager to focus the blame on her husband? Or the suspicious young man with the hoodie who is following Max and Tirill? Perhaps Jon Homme, the son of the deceased corrupt sheriff who was hiding a fertility relic in his car? What about the crusty old pervert Tellev Sustugu, who has pictures of women being tortured plastered to the walls of a room in his house?
Max must go way back in time to learn about the ancient story of the Devil’s Wedding Ring to make any sense out of what has been going on in Eidsborg. Readers will learn about Norway past and present in a well-written and suspenseful mystery, translated into English by award-winning translator Tiina Nunnally.
The Devil’s Wedding Ring, by Vidar Sundstøl, was published in 2017 by The University of Minnesota Press. Translated into English by Tiina Nunnally from the Norwegian original, Djevelens giftering (2015).
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.
This article originally appeared in the Oct. 20, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.