Forty Days without Shadow, by French journalist Olivier Truc, is set in the remote Lapland of northern Norway, where reindeer are the only livelihood for indigenous Sami herders who brave the dark, Arctic winters to keep vigil over their animals, and where the old ways—even ritualized murder—can still hold sway.
Truc’s chilling debut won 15 international awards after its publication in 2012, and it is now available in English, thanks to a compelling translation by Louise Rogers Lalaurie. Translations sometimes have an awkward feel to them at the outset of a book, but as readers continue on, the unusual sentence structure develops a cadence of its own and becomes an integral part of the narrative. Lalaurie’s translation creates a chilling mood that mimics the haunting green glimmer of the Northern Lights.
Senior Sami police officer Klemet Nango and his freshman deputy, Nina Nansen, investigate two crimes: the theft of a unique Sami drum once used by the region’s shamans, whose rituals can be traced back to the area’s oldest mythology; and the brutal murder of an old reindeer herder. The detective team’s radically different backgrounds and approaches to the murder scene, in a setting full of omens and danger, make for a fascinating juxtaposition of old and new ways. Old practices clash with conservative Lutheran groups and geologists who are out to exploit the region’s vast mineral reserves for plunder and profit.
The book’s title describes a seminal moment in far northern Lapland, as 40 days without any sunlight to cast a shadow slowly give way to a magical, goose pimple-raising sequence when the community gathers to watch the sun appear once more over the horizon: “Everyone fixed their gaze on the horizon. The magnificent gleam intensified, reflecting more and more brightly. . . . Now, a bright, trembling halo of light blurred the point on the horizon at which everyone was gazing. . . . The sun had kept its word.”
A dramatic snowbound setting mixes with unexpected touches of humor to make this book one of the most riveting of the season.