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Indridason, Arnaldur - 'Strange Shores' (translated by Victoria Cribb)
Paperback: 304 pages (Aug. 2014) Publisher: Vintage ISBN: 0099563347

"You will find Beggi, won't you?"
"Yes, we'll find him," his mother reassures him. "It's only a matter of time. We'll find him, you can rely on that."
"He must be cold."

Iceland, East Fjords.
No longer feeling the icy chill, he lies in the dark with images from the past and present filling his mind. A figure in the doorway asks him why he is "lying here", saying that they will stay with him tonight. But the figure refuses to say who they are. Instead they ask – what became of the family who used to live here? Later, the image of the doorway and the house disappear.

Erlendur Sveinsson, the policeman from Reykjavik, is back on one of his visits to the eastern region where he grew up, camping out in his family's ruined croft. He stands amongst the drizzly crags and watches the hunter approach, an old man hunting a fox that got one of his lambs. Erlendur asks if he may accompany him and together they move further uphill and wait in a hide for the vixen. The hunter, sharing his bread and mutton pâté, tells Erlendur that he knows who he is and that he remembers the search parties looking for Erlendur and his little brother all those years ago. Locals say they spot him from time to time, walking the hills and sleeping in the ruined farmhouse. Is he still looking for his brother? No, says Erlendur, and asks the hunter about Matthildur, a woman his mother had known slightly and who disappeared during a storm in 1942, the same storm that killed some British soldiers who got lost on the moors.

Erlendur's talk with the hunter leads him to visit Matthildur's sister, now in her eighties but still living in Reydarfjördur. He explains that he is interested in the stories of "missing people" and asks about Matthildur's disappearance. She tells him that Matthildur was married to a fisherman from the next fjord and that she was supposed to have set out to walk over the moors to visit her mother in Reydarfjördur on the day she was lost in the blizzard. She was never found. Later there were rumours that Matthildur was running away from her husband on the day she disappeared. Stupid gossip followed – that Matthildur's ghost had haunted the husband and caused his drowning in a shipwreck.

Erlendur goes on to visit a fisherman who knew the husband. There is little more that he can add to the story of Matthildur's disappearance but as Erlendur is saying good-bye, he spots a small object, battered and grey, amongst a collection of bits and pieces in the old man's kitchen. It looks like the remains of a toy car, similar to the one given to his younger brother by their father. The old man says that he found it in a fox's hole up on Hardskafi and he doesn't know why he kept it. Seeing the effect it has on Erlendur, he gives it to him. In a daze, Erlendur parks by the shore, thinking about Matthildur and staring at the remains of the metal toy. Erlendur had been envious of the little red car. His brother, Beggi, had loved it. He was carrying it in his glove when he went missing...

Award-winning Icelandic writer Arnaldur Indridason has written eleven novels (not all translated into English) featuring the morose Reykjavik detective Erlendur Sveinsson. When asked if STRANGE SHORES was his goodbye to the character, he replied: "I'm not sure I've said goodbye". He has also said that it is up to the reader to decide if this is Erlendur's last appearance. Set in the remote Eastern Fjords of Iceland where Erlendur spent his childhood, STRANGE SHORES takes Erlendur back to the time of his younger brother's disappearance during a sudden blizzard. It was a tragedy that caused the family to leave their farm and move to Reykjavik but on this trip back, Erlendur becomes obsessed by another blizzard disappearance, that of Matthildur, a young woman who went missing many years before. In a characteristically relentless search for the truth, Erlendur roams the fjord settlements interviewing her surviving family and friends. His character is such that he protects his own privacy whilst obsessively excavating the buried secrets of others and this painful persistence earns him their hostility. But slowly he uncovers the truth, arriving as he does so at some kind of resolution about the fate of his brother.

In Victoria Cribb's seamless translation, STRANGE SHORES tells the story of a generation and way of life that is disappearing from contemporary Iceland. Above all it is an exploration of the damage caused by grief and guilt, both for Erlendur and for the people surrounding Matthildur, and although Erlendur fans may be divided over this book I come down firmly on the "pro" side. It's a moving tribute to Indridason's enduring character, detective Erlendur Sveinsson.

Read another review of STRANGE SHORES.

Lynn Harvey, England
November 2014

Lynn blogs at Little Grey Doll.

Details of the author's other books with links to reviews can be found on the Books page.
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 9/11/2014 09:37