The Ravens wrap up Vidar Sundstol's trilogy

 

BOOK REVIEW

The Ravens

Minnesota Trilogy 3

By Vidar Sundstol

Written in Norwegian with a translation

by Tiina Nunnally

University of Minnesota Press 2015

Hardcover 272 pages $31.48

A Review by Michael Sobota

Vidar Sundstol's The Ravens is the concluding novel in his Minnesota murder-mystery trilogy. I have read and reviewed the two preceding volumes , The Land of Dreams and Only The Dead, and was eagerly looking forward to the resolution of his tale.

Set in the small Minnesota towns along the North shore of Lake Superior, the story began two years ago when Lance Hansen, a U.S. Forest Services officer, discoverd the battered body of a naked man near Baraga's Cross. After extensive investigation, by the end of the first book Lenny Diver, a lone Native, had been charged with the murder and locked up in a Duluth jail. But Lance, privy to certain information he did not share with other investigators, new Lenny was innocent and that evidence pointed to his own younger brother, Andy, as the murderer.

The second book was taken up with a long, cold and miserable hunting trip that Lance and Andy traditionally went on in the Fall. An ice storm set in and in that cold sleet, Vidar's internal dialogues for the two brothers made it clear they might be hunting each other.

The concluding book, The Ravens, takes place several months after that hunting trip. It is late January in a winter that Sundstol describes exactly like the winter we are experiencing now: "Lake Superior had frozen over and was transformed into a desolate wasteland. In Duluth the temperatures hovered at a steady twenty below."

From the first novel, we learned that Lance has been unable to dream for nearly a decade. This causes a certain physical enui for him, as well as contributing to his inability to act on the information pointing to his brother as a murderer. He languishes in uncertainty and depression, unable and unwilling to make any tough decisions. In a visit to his ex-wife's father, an Native elder named Willy Dupree, Willy tells him he needs to fast and "pass through" whateverit is that he is afraid of.

Sundstol sets up a startling incident that causes Lance to do just that, and the days after this tipping point, Lance begins to persue his investigation with renewed energy and focus.

The Ravens is written in short, tightly focused chapters. Each one brings back characters from earlier parts of the mystery. In addition to Andy, there are important events with Andy's daughter, Chrissy, a teen-age Goth addict, Andy's wife, Tammy, Lance's aging mom who is living in a Duluth facility for seniors, and a long-ago love interest, Debbie, who he dated some twenty-five years ago. Each of these encouters skillfully reveal just a little more information that leads Lance both deeper into the mystery of the murder, and closer to the truth about who and what caused it.

As a reader, I often had moments where I wanted Lance to stick with a particular scene or conversation. It was as though he was on the brink of a major break through, but Sundstal would veer him away from it.

Written originally in Norwegian, the crisp translation is by Tiina Nunnally. The deadly cold winter provides evocative atmosphere for all the characters. They move around in that dark, winter world as though it will never end.

I will not spoil the resolution of the mystery except to say that when it does finally arrive, Sundstol writes it swiftly, with penetrating dialogue. Lance and the murderer are alone in a house, with a loaded gun, and one of them, well, you know I won't tell you.

I read an advance copy of The Ravens. It will be published in April of this year.

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