Harvill Secker, 2013
originally published as Furðustrandir, 2010
translated by Victoria Cribb
"...part of him would forever belong to this place, a witness to the helplessness of the individual when confronted by the pitiless forces of nature."
Each time a new novel by Arnaldur Indridason is published, I refuse to wait until it's been published in the US and so I go straight to Amazon UK to get my copy. Expensive? Yes. Do I care? No. Arnaldur Indridason is among the few Scandinavian crime fiction writers I still read since a lot (not all) of what's been coming out lately in that area seems to be a mix of crime, romance and badass chick-lit; he's also up there on my list of favorite all-time crime writers as well. I've been following the series since it started, well, at least since book three, Jar City, which was the first of the Erlendur series novels to be translated into English. There are two before Jar City, and according to stopyourekillingme.com, there are two more to come after Strange Shores: one, The Match, listed as a prequel, set in 1972, the other with the title Reykjavik Nights. Strange Shores is easily one of Indridason's best books in the series, and at the same time, perhaps one of the saddest of them all.
If you've followed the entire Erlendur saga, the last time anyone in Reykjavik saw him was during the events of Hypothermia, a case that had stirred up Erlendur's memories of his brother's death in the mountains of Eskifjördur, near to where they'd grown up. The end of that novel reveals that Erlendur had returned to the "derelict farm that had once been his home;" as Strange Shores begins, he's still there, camped out comfortably in the old croft at Bakkasel. It's a place he's returned to now and then, "when he felt the urge." It's a place where he can relive his memories about the day he lost his brother and the reason for the guilt he's carried with him ever since. As the novel opens, Erlendur is out walking one day and runs into a farmer who's an expert on foxes. While they're talking, the farmer tells Erlendur that he had been part of the search party who'd gone to search for Erlandur's brother, who had gone missing in a blizzard after becoming separated from Erlendur. He also happens to mention that during the war, a group of sixty British soldiers had also become caught in a storm on the moors, an event that people still remember. What people don't seem to talk about any longer, however, is the disappearance in the same storm of Matthildur, a young woman who had supposedly gone off on foot across the moors to visit her mother in a neighboring town, and caught in the storm, was never seen nor heard from again. Talking to her sister Hrund, Erlendur notes that he has a personal interest in "stories about ordeals in the wilderness," and wants to know more about what had happened. As he gets wrapped up in Matthildur's story, as his curiosity morphs into a private investigation, and as he continues on his quest, he begins to realize that perhaps there are some people who would rather that he stop dredging up the past. Even as he questions his decisions to move forward, wondering why he should "rake up what was better left undisturbed," he knows he's not going to stop:
"his sole intention was to uncover the truth in every case, to track down what was lost and forgotten."
As in many of Indridason's Erlendur novels, Strange Shores dwells largely on the past, and in this book, the Inspector's quest to "track down what was lost" leads him not only to uncover information about Matthildur, but about his brother and himself in the process. And while regular fans may not like the ending of this novel at all, imho, it is quite fitting in terms of Erlendur's character -- and offers a sense of completeness to what he's been looking for throughout most of his life.
Even considering the feelings I have about the ending of this book, it is truly one of Indridason's best, a book no crime fiction reader following this series should miss. It is the most poignant of the entire series, the most beautifully written, and trust me, one you will not soon forget. Regular readers of Indridason's series know that Erlendur has always been more comfortable with tradition, and that as things have changed around him he's been less than willing to embrace the new and frankly, in some cases, really doesn't understand it. Here, he's in his element, as he is enveloped by the past. At the same time, Indridason continues his critique of social and other changes, this time regarding the advent of new industry, the building of a new and controversial hydroelectric dam, and work going to lower-paid immigrants, giving voice to his concerns through Erlendur:
"He couldn't understand how on earth an unaccountable multinational, based far away in America, had been permitted to put its heavy industrial stamp on a tranquil ford and tract of untouched wilderness here in the remote east of Iceland."Do not, under any circumstances, let this be your introduction to Erlendur. Start with Jar City, and make your way through the series slowly, savoring every second. This isn't a series even remotely close to thriller-ville like a lot of crime writing, nor is it filled with fast-paced action or badass women. If that's what you want in your Scandinavian crime, go for it, but you won't get that here. This series is highly intelligent, sophisticated, and is one to be savored.
crime fiction from Iceland