Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Strange Shores by Arnaldur Indridason
Arnaldur Indridason is perhaps the best known of Icelandic mystery author of "Nordic Noir" thrillers, with nine of his twelve Inspector Erlendur books translated into English.
Erlendur is a misfit, a dour man whose entire life has been weighed down by guilt over the childhood death of his younger brother, who was lost on the high moors above their remote east Icelandic village during a sudden snowstorm. The two young boys had accompanied their father on a search for some of the family's sheep. All three had become separated from each other during the blizzard. Their father made it back home and raised the alarm; search parties found and rescued Erlendur; but young Beggi vanished, his body never found.
The tragedy destroyed the family. They abandoned the farm and moved to Reykjavik., where his father succumbed to depression. Eventually Erlendur found work as a police officer.
There's an underlying fatalism to all of Erlendur's cases; many of the crimes he investigates have their roots in the past, when Iceland was a poor, insular country, life was hard and unforgiving, and domestic violence was often covered up. Yet Erlendur understands that kind of crime far better than the crimes of the "new" Iceland, connived at by shady developers and greedy financiers, drug dealers and sex traffickers.
In Indridason's last novel, Black Skies, Erlendur was referred to but never appeared; he was said to be on leave and visiting his old family croft at Bakkasel. In Strange Shores we read the story of Erlendur's visit there, once again wandering the moors searching for expiation from his guilt.
There he meets an old hunter and hears again the stories of other lives lost during past storms; one, in particular, catches his interest, because it happened very close in time to the loss of his brother. A young married woman left her home one morning to walk over the mountain pass to visit her mother in the next village; a sudden storm came down on the mountains and she too was never found.
A few years later, the tragedy was completed when her husband, who never remarried, was drowned in a storm while working on a fishing boat. But his body at least was recovered and laid to rest in his village graveyard.
The story catches Erlendur's attention. Even though it all happened more than forty years ago, in his usual obsessive way, Erlendur begins making inquiries, piecing together accounts of what occurred, tracing family members and anyone yet alive who knew the people involved and might still remember details of these events. And he begins to discover discrepancies, as he compares the various accounts, that lead him to suspect something quite different happened. That someone still alive is harboring a guilty secret that has wreaked his life, as Erlendur's guilt has worked on him.
A powerful tale of love and death, revenge and retribution, confession and absolution, very like the ancient Icelandic sagas.
Click HERE to read an interview with Arnaldur Indridason talking about Strange Shores.