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landofdreamsTHE LAND OF DREAMS is positioned as a Norwegian mystery, and it is…sort of. Those who prefer action and tension and a drive to find out whodunit will be disappointed, as will those who like the mystery to be solved at the end of the novel. You have been warned. That said, I loved this atmospheric novel, first in a trilogy, absolutely crammed with fascinating history.

Lance Hansen is a forest cop on the shores of Lake Superior, very close to Canada, accustomed to doling out fines to tourists without fishing licenses and the like. He is unprepared when a routine report of illegal camping leads him to the naked body of a dead Norwegian. Once he reports the crime, his role should be finished as the FBI and a Norwegian cop sweep in, but he can’t let it go. Lance is a passionate genealogist and the question of whether this is the first murder in Minnesota’s Cook County nags at him. Surely there have been murders here before, and yet, wouldn’t Lance know if there had been? He begins to investigate a disappearance of a native man a century ago (when Lance’s relatives arrive in America from Norway), wondering if perhaps that case was the first murder in the area. Family connections haunt both past and present crimes, and Lance finds himself torn between family and his law enforcement role.

Sunstol evokes Northern Minnesota so well I felt I had been there (I haven’t). The history of the area, the cultural effects, the genealogical discussions, were fascinating once I adjusted my expectations of the novel. This is not a typical mystery. If I had read it expecting a typical mystery, I would have written a scathing review. Sundstol quickly lets us know that it isn’t. Lance has no real role in the current murder investigation after finding the bodies. He does find out about the investigation, but this is peripheral to his independent research into the question of “Is this Cook County’s first murder?” If that thought bores you, look elsewhere. If, however, you are intrigued by an in-depth look at how the past and present collide in a unique region with cultural ties to (and differences from) Norway, this is the novel for you. It’s a fascinating look at the tension between family and duty and a sweeping portrayal of the area’s culture and history.

Source disclosure: I received an e-galley of this title courtesy of the publisher.