Midnight Sun by Jo Nesbo

The Blurb On The Back:

Jon is on the run.

He has betrayed Oslo’s biggest crime lord: The Fisherman.

Fleeting to a mountain town so far north that the sun never sets, Jon hopes to find sanctuary.

Hiding out in the wilderness, all that stands between him and his fate are Lea, a bereaved mother, and her young son, Knut.

But the midnight sun is slowly driving Jon to insanity.

And then he discovers that the Fisherman’s men are getting closer …

You can buy MIDNIGHT SUN by Jo Nesbo from Amazon UK, Waterstone’s or Bookshop.org UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

It’s 8 August 1978.

100 days ago, Jon Hansen made his living selling dope in Oslo and was saving up money so he could pay for treatment for a sick loved one.  To stay off the Fisherman’s radar, he kept his sales low level and low key but then a misunderstanding drew him to the Fisherman’s attention who decided to hire him as an enforcer, securing outstanding debts and handing out messages and punishments where needed.  The problem was that Jon doesn’t have a violent bone in his body and definitely can’t bring himself to kill.

So now he’s on the run with 113,000 krone and a pistol.  

Taking the bus north, he ends up in Kåsund, a small town in the Finnmark plateau where the sun shines for 24 hours every day.  He tells the locals his name is Ulf and plans to keep his head down in a remote hunting lodge until the Fisherman’s enforcers stop looking for him and try to work out what he should do next.  In the meantime, he befriends Lea Sara (the wife of a local fisherman whose husband is missing-presumed-dead at sea) and her 10-year-old Knut as well as Mattis, a local maker of moonshine and general fixer.  

Lea and Knut are members of the Læstadian church run by her strict father – a belief system alien to Jon, who was raised by his atheist grandfather – yet he still finds himself drawn to her, even more so when he realises that she has problems of her own.  Yet the Fisherman’s men are getting closer and the long days are beginning to affect his mental state …

Jo Nesbo’s crime novella (translated from Norwegian by Neil Smith) is a tightly written affair that has some overlap with earlier novella BLOOD ON SNOW.  However, Jon is a surprisingly passive character so the action comes from his failure to act rather, which makes for a bit of a frustrating read and Lea is little more than a standard damsel in distress.  That said, there are some interesting plot twists and it held my attention to the end.

Jon is a strange character – very much a drifter who goes along with things and who has got in over his head.  I liked the fact that he’s not someone who likes violence and who can’t bring himself to kill because it makes him easy to relate to but it does mean that at times he’s pretty passive and his decisions, while understandable, are also infuriating.  On the plus side, he does recognise when his behaviour runs counter to his survival instinct and there’s one point in the book where he puts his instinct to run to very clever effect. 

Lea is little more than a damsel in distress with a standard sad backstory and a cute son.  She does have some backbone to her and I enjoyed the development of her relationship with Jon, especially how her faith and her father’s position in the community controls her while also grounding her.

Timing wise, this book is set 8 months after previous novella BLOOD ON SNOW and the Fisherman makes a cross-over appearance here, which I enjoyed.  He is a great creation – seen through the eyes of his underlings and combining menace and practicality with his fish business.  I would really like to read something about the Fisherman’s other enforcer, Johnny Moe who is chillingly depicted in the handful of scenes that he has.

Nesbo is particularly good at depicting the landscape in which Jon has found himself and the nightmarish qualities of a day that never falls into night, although I have to say that I didn’t quite buy the deterioration in Jon’s mental state.  Mention should also be made of Neil Smith who has produced a translation that reads very naturally and maintains a sense of place and tension.

All in all, my misgivings about Jon’s character notwithstanding I did find this an absorbing read that kept me turning the pages until the end.   

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