The Devil's Wedding Ring
by Vidar Sundstol, Tiina Nunnally (Translator)
University of Minnesota Press
Published: September 26,2017
Synopsis From Publisher:
On Midsummer Eve in 1985, a young folklore researcher disappears from the village of Eidsborg in the Telemark region of Norway. Exactly thirty years later, the student Cecilie Wiborg goes missing. She too had been researching the old, pagan rituals associated with the 13th-century Eidsborg stave church. And then Knut Abrahamsen, a former police officer from the area, is found drowned in the nearby Tokke River, a presumed suicide since his pockets were filled with stones.
Hearing of the death of his former colleague and friend, private investigator Max Fjellanger feels compelled to leave his long-time home in Florida and return to his native Norway to attend Knut’s funeral. Even though they haven’t spoken in more than three decades, Max is not convinced that Knut killed himself. There are details about the circumstances of his death that just don’t add up. And there seems to be a link to the case of the missing researcher in Telemark, which the two of them had worked together—until threats from a corrupt sheriff put an end to the investigation and to Max’s career on the police force.
This time Max is determined to find out the truth. Reluctantly he finds himself drawn into a dark universe in which ancient superstitions, religious cults, and sinister forces are still very much alive. And the stave church, with its famed wooden statue of Saint Nikuls, is at the center of it all.
Finding an unlikely partner in Tirill Vesterli—a university librarian and single mother who is obsessed with crime novels—Max is plunged into a menacing world of ghostly monks, severed pigs’ heads, and mythic rites, all somehow connected to Midsummer Eve, which is fast approaching. As Max and Tirill quickly learn, it’s a misconception that the past is past—the truth is that it’s never over.
This is award-winning crime novelist Vidar Sundstøl at his best, spinning a tale that is taut with suspense and steeped in Norwegian culture, past and present.
When I came across this book, I really did not have any expectations. Once I knew the book was considered Nordic Noir, I did not need more convincing to give it a try. Happily my optimism was rewarded and I discovered a great book and a new author to add to my list of favorites. The Devils Wedding Ring is a character rich twisty tale filled with myths, folklore, and long kept secrets.
The story takes place in the Telemark region of Norway. I had never heard of this region so I checked to see if Telemark was a real place in Norway and it is indeed a real place. The real names of the towns within the region are mentioned frequently throughout the book. I looked at images of the region and it looks to be just what I pictured, rolling hills, mountains, old barns, isolated roads, and lakes that mirror its surroundings. Along with the descriptions in the book, these images allowed me to fully picture myself in Telemark as I was reading.
The book is filled with tales of the past residents of this region; tales of love, death, and betrayal. These stories allowed me to get a full picture of the people and the culture of this region. These are people who acknowledge and respect their past; many still paid tribute to the characters in the legends.
Max Fjellanger returns to the Telemark region of Norway for the funeral of a former colleague and friend, Knut Abrahamsen. The cause of death is ruled a suicide but Max is not convinced. Instead of returning to the U.S. and his private investigation firm; Max stays in Norway to conduct his own investigation into the death of his friend. During his investigation he meets Tirill Vesterli, a librarian and single mother. Max and Tirill discover they have shared interests and both set off to investigate Knut’s death.
I enjoyed getting to know the main characters. Upon his return to Norway Max is filled with feelings of guilt and regret. When he was a young police officer in Telemark, a young man disappeared while hiking. Max was assigned to the search for the young man, but he knows he should have done more to find the lost hiker. He is ashamed of his lack of courage. Max believes the death of his former colleague and the missing hiker are connected. Max is now determined to find resolution to his friend’s death and the disappearance of the young man he believed he failed years ago.
Tirill Vesterli, Max’s right hand lady, was my favorite character. I loved her role as Max’s voice of reason. She basically forces herself into Max’s life and the investigation; I found her determination admirable. As a child she often felt out of place among her peers. She mimicked their behavior in an attempt to fit in. Now as a mother she is determined to be her true self, she wants to be someone her son can respect. Tirill is also an avid reader of detective stories; in her mind she calls herself Detective Vesterli. When she first meets Max she quickly figures out where he is from, where he lives, and his marital status through deductive reasoning. She immediately became my favorite character.
The author provides more character development by giving the reader insight into the characters dreams. While conducting their investigation Max and Tirill talk to relatives of victims and witnesses. Upon meeting some of these people, they sometimes recall a dream they once had. The dream is conjured up by a look on the person’s face or the feeling they got when the stepped in the room. The descriptions of these dreams made the pair seem more authentic.
The mystery at the core of the book surrounds a cult, religious rituals, and folklore. In the past I have found books with this type of central mystery difficult to follow and typically after finishing the book I would feel let down with the ending. Thankfully this was not the case with this book. The plot was not weighed down with religious customs and superstitions. The Devil’s Wedding Ring was a wonderful atmospheric read. I was completely caught up in the region and the characters. If you are looking for a Nordic Noir read for the Halloween season make sure to pick up The Devil’s Wedding Ring.
**Thanks to Netgalley and University of Minnesota Press for my review copy**
Murder and Moore Rating:
4 ½ out of 5 Stars