By Jo Nesbo, translated by Neil Smith. (Alfred A. Knopf, 273 pages, $24.)
Norwegian writer Jo Nesbo’s latest novel, “Midnight Sun,” is as much love story as crime fiction. A runaway hit man who got paid to kill someone — and didn’t — has taken a fake name, Ulf, and fled to far northern Scandinavia. Ulf holes up in the isolated land of the Sami, or Lapp, people, where he meets Lea, daughter of a preacher in the conservative Laestadian sect. Pursued by killers for an Oslo criminal boss, Ulf gets help from strangers, and the motive for his crime-ridden life is slowly revealed. The pace isn’t as frenetic as some of Nesbo’s other, bestselling crime novels, but this book should appeal to anyone who enjoys a good story and prefers fewer bullets and a low body count.
A SPLENDID SAVAGE
By Steve Kemper. (Norton, 448 pages, $27.95.)
Armchair adventurers may find no better book this season than Steve Kemper’s exhilarating biography of Frederick Russell Burnham, a relative unknown who popped up, Zelig-like, in seemingly half the major world events of his long life (1861-1947).
As Kemper writes, Burnham’s story “seems almost too far-fetched for credibility, as if an old newsreel got mashed up with a Saturday matinee thriller.” The extent of Burnham’s travels, the number of places he lived, the number of gold mines he prospected, the armed conflicts for which he volunteered his services as an expert scout — these all provide grist for a narrative that, like Burnham, never stays long in one place.
Born in Minnesota, Burnham was an infant whose family was swept up in the Dakota Conflict. By age 12, he was working as a Western Union rider in Southern California, honing qualities — strength, endurance, wilderness knowledge — that shaped his destiny. From Indian wars in Arizona to the Boer War in South Africa, Burnham made himself indispensable to military leaders with his fearless ability to track an enemy night after night, endure extreme hardship and gather crucial intelligence.
An insatiable prospector for gold and silver, Burnham made and lost his fortune countless times. Blanche, his wife of 60 years, emerges as long-suffering during his absences and courageous as a pioneer partner on many of his travels. Kemper doesn’t ignore Burnham’s racist views, but places them in the context of an era when they mirrored those of such prominent men as Theodore Roosevelt.
Senior metro editor, nights