The Wild North

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It’s refreshing to leave the mean streets of big cities behind and spend some time with Nina Nansen and Klemet Nango of the Norwegian reindeer police on the coast of the Arctic Ocean.  It’s like the old Wild West here, with Sami reindeer herders replacing the Indians, big oil executives taking the place of the railroad barons, and the roles of the daredevil cowboys being played by the deep-sea divers, an elite group of young men who do the dangerous work of underwater inspections and maintenance for the oil platforms.  Except that this is the Twenty-First Century, not the Nineteenth Century, and in Western Europe, even in its northernmost regions, we have television, cell phones, and political correctness.  You can’t just shoot the nomad population and get them out of the way.

This brings us to the reindeer police.  They’re more like traffic cops than homicide detectives, their job being to serve as a buffer between the nomads and their herds and the city dwellers and tourists who often try to occupy the same space at the same time.  But Nango and Nansen are nevertheless trained police personnel and when the bodies start piling up in an unusual series of apparent accidents they become involved in the investigation, because the first death is that of a Sami shepherd who is drowned while taking his herd across an icy strait to their summer pasture.

Le Détroit du Loup, published in 2014, is especially interesting because author Olivier Truc has lived in Stockholm for the last twenty years, reporting on the Nordic and Baltic countries for several French newspapers.  His reporters investigative instincts are evident in his descriptions of the pressure of the encroaching industrial development on the lives of the traditional herdsmen and also in the accounts of the hair-raising risks undertaken by the divers and the shoddy treatment of them by the oil executives who are concerned only with time, money, and ever more development.

I have read several decent mysteries by Scandinavian writers, but I generally try to avoid them because I find them a bit gloomy.  Maybe because he’s a Frenchman, and not a native of the north, Truc’s book doesn’t have a gloomy atmosphere, in spite of all the ice, snow, and freezing weather.  Maybe that’s because he sets his story at the beginning of spring, and begins his account of each day’s happenings with the times of sunrise and sunset and the total hours of sunshine for the day, beginning with Friday, April 23, with sunrise at 3:26 and sunset at 21:20, 17 hours 54 minutes of sunshine, and ending with Wednesday, May 12, sunrise at 0:42, no sunset, and 23 hours eighteen minutes of sunshine.

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