Max Fjellanger returns to Norway for the funeral of an old friend and finds himself immersed in a 30-year-old murder case in Sundstøl’s (The Ravens, 2015, etc.) latest.
As young policemen in Eidsborg, Max Fjellanger and Knut Abrahamsen investigated a missing person case that was never solved; shortly afterward, Max left the police force and moved to America, where he became a private investigator and married Ann. He and Knut did not keep in touch, but when he hears about his old friend’s death, he impulsively returns to Norway for the funeral and confronts memories of the past. Knut’s death, ruled a suicide at first, seems suspicious, as does the recent disappearance of a young woman who was researching an old stave church and its wooden saint. The missing man from 30 years ago also had a scholarly interest in that church and its ritual traditions. Assuming this is no coincidence, Max teams up with a librarian named Tirill to uncover the truth behind these disappearances and Knut’s death. Rumors suggest that some members of the church community may be conducting their own, more pagan rituals connected to the summer solstice. Max and Tirill must be careful whom they trust, because some people are clearly willing to kill to protect their centuries-old secret. There is a clever plot here, and Max and Tirill are an engaging duo, but the novel lacks emotional depth. Most of the characters just don’t seem complex enough to drive the action-packed plot, and this leaves many scenes feeling flat. Though the novel moves somewhat slowly, the climax manages to feel rushed and lacks full explanation and development. The connection between early Christianity and paganism, while not new, could have been more thoroughly explored to add complexity and resonance.
A Scandinavian Wicker Man without the atmosphere.