BookBrowse Reviews Forty Days Without Shadow by Olivier Truc

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Forty Days Without Shadow

An Arctic Thriller

by Olivier Truc

Forty Days Without Shadow by Olivier Truc X
Forty Days Without Shadow by Olivier Truc
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2014, 480 pages
    Paperback:
    Nov 2014, 480 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte

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In the last hours of dark, in a small in a small village in northern Norway, two terrible crimes are committed. Who is responsible?

What is the first thing you think of when you hear the words "Scandinavian Thriller?" Is it Jo Nesbo? Or The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo? Olivier Truc's debut, Forty Days Without Shadow, is far removed from its famous cousins - and that is a good thing.

Set in the Arctic, in the northernmost parts of Norway, Forty Days is about conflict: between native peoples and colonizers; between tradition and modernity, and between good and evil. The thriller's action centers around the town of Kautokeino, located in Norway's Finnmark county, an area that has a larger population of reindeer than people. Reindeer husbandry is the primary occupation here, and a separate force called the Reindeer Police resolves conflicts between herders.

On the surface it seems that nothing can disturb the tranquil peace of the vast snowy tundra, but appearances can be deceptive. The native Sami people are a major presence in this part of Norway and, sadly, intolerance is very much a part of the local fabric. A local policeman and his cronies belong to the right-wing Progress Party and silently carve out a platform of bigotry. What's more, the traditional way of life in the Sápmi (the region occupied by the Sami people that embraces northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia) is under threat. Finnmark county is rich in minerals and, for decades, mining companies have set up shop, often to devastating effect. Against this tense backdrop, on the fortieth day without shadow, just one day before the official end of the long polar night, a Sami drum goes missing from the local museum. This artifact is of crucial cultural importance and is an important part of shamanic rituals. A day later, a local Sami reindeer herder, Mattis Labba, is found dead. Convinced that the two events are related and somehow connected to the natives, the Reindeer police, in the form of Klement Nango (a Sami) and Nina Nansen (a rookie from south Norway) are tasked with solving the crime.

Truc reveals the many layers of the mystery slowly and the list of possible suspects grows ever longer. Could it be a case of friction between reindeer herders? Could a sleazy French geologist, in town for a mining license, somehow be involved? What link does a 1939 geology expedition have, if any, with the crime? Is the missing drum significant? What's up with Aslak Gaupsara, the Sami who sets himself apart from the rest of the natives? Truc teases out these seemingly disparate threads and ties them to one satisfying conclusion.

In an author's note, Truc, a documentary filmmaker, writes that he wanted to shine light on the Sami and paint them in more realistic tones. "It's exasperating for them when they're represented merely as the token indigenous people, wearing brightly colored costumes, tending to Santa's reindeer," he writes. He followed the reindeer police on their beat for a documentary he worked on, a special perspective that is weaved expertly into the story. There are some times, however, when Truc overly romanticizes the Sami, and renders most of his character portrayals in black and white. There are very few shades of gray here.

The breathtaking beauty of Sápmi - the Arctic tundra - is the real scene-stealer. Almost every chapter begins by noting the date and the minutes of sunlight received. Tuesday, January 11, for example, receives 27 minutes of sunlight. There is cold and then there is Kautokeino cold. That the locals zip around on their snowmobiles and skis anyway, is a testament to our capacity to endure even the harshest conditions. The panoramic setting, the Northern Lights, the snow-draped landscape - together make for a heady mix which is alone worth the price of admission.

Go ahead. Read Forty Days Without Shadow. But, be warned: you will be very tempted to include Kautokeino in your short-term travel plans. Might as well shop for a chapka now.

Reviewed by Poornima Apte

This review is from the January 21, 2015 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

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Beyond the Book:
  Sami Religion

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