Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Forty Days Without Shadow: An Arctic Thriller

by Olivier Truc
Grand Central Publishing (April 1, 2014)
400 pages - 9.16 $ (kindle)

Tomorrow, the sun will rise for the first time in 40 days. Thirty minutes of daylight will herald the end of the polar night in Kautokeino, a small village in northern Norway, home to the indigenous Sami people. 

But in the last hours of darkness, a precious artifact is stolen: an ancient Sami drum. The most important piece in the museum's collection, it was due to go on tour with a UN exhibition in a few short weeks. 

Hours later, a man is murdered. Mattis, one of the last Sami reindeer herders, is found dead in his gumpy. 

Are the two crimes connected? In a town fraught with tension--between the indigenous Samis fighting to keep their culture alive, the ultra-Lutheran Scandinavian colonists concerned with propagati-ng their own religion, and the greedy geologists eager to mine the region's ore deposits--it falls to two local police officers to solve the crimes. Klemet Nango, an experienced Sami officer, and Nina Nansen, his much younger partner from the south of Norway, must find the perpetrators before it's too late...

What's good about it

The atmosphere, freezing as hell, the Sami (unknown people for me but oh so interesting!), for its landscapes, immense and wild, for the love of the sun and of the daylight so rare in Lapland winter but so desired and desirable. Olivier Truc knows how to make an unknown place alive, close and familiar. This is his strength but sometimes it doesn't do well for some readers... Honey, who was trying for the first time a crime ficton, said after reading a single page "so much writing for just a single line of dialogue! Do you have something that moves more?" Because no, it's not face-paced, even though the two officers never stop to investigate but the distances and the cold weather does not help - it must be said - and everything takes longer time in this context so special, which makes this book very realistic in the end.

Talking characters. Klemet and Nina, the two main sympathetic characters and police officer of the reindeer police, are very different, since Klemet, close to retirement, is Sami, while Nina is a cop just out of school and from a region south of the country where issues related to indigenous are unknown. Culture shock is present between these two, even if they finally manage to get along through their desire to unmask the killer. In other characters, we also have a racist cop on the edge of caricature, a particularly nasty and rude person, an unscrupulous old farmer and a few more endearing old Sami. Despite some irritating (the villain was sometimes - especially towards the end - unnecessarily vulgar as if the author intended by the language used to make us understand that this man is the villain of the story. Process altogether very unnecessary and slightly irritating in my case), the characters really help us understand the Sami reality, the difficulties of coexistence between different cultures and the fragility of some lost traditions.

I enjoyed discovering the Sami culture that I absolutely didn't know of (surprising, right?), I also enjoyed being immersed in the landscapes of Lapland, I least enjoyed the biting cold so faithfully transpose ​​(but it's probably due to the fact that the Quebec winter is too similar...) Noteworthy: the history of the mineral rush, very interesting. I least enjoyed the conclusion of the investigation, a bit fast compared to the slower pace of the book. But nonetheless Forty Days Without Shadow is a wealth of information both on the culture, geology and history of Lapland. That alone, is worth a look!

In a nutshell

Descriptive stories are not my cup of tea but I know that this book will appeal to fans of ethnological crime fiction because it's Olivier Truc's strength: being able to make us live in Lapland during the 400 pages of the book. This is a 3.5 / 5 for me.

Forty Days Without Shadow won several prices in Europe: prix du meilleur polar, prix mystère de la critique, prix quai du polar


  1. This is the translation of 'Le dernier lapon', is that right? I was a little underwhelmed by it, I have to admit.

  2. Yes, that's the one. I found other people in Quais du Polar who felt the same too.