Murder in a land of shrouded mountains

Country: Faroe Islands.

Book: The Blood Strand, by Chris Ould. Published by Titan Books.

Plot: A man is found unconscious in his BMW 4 Series car on a lonely lay-by early one morning. There is an attache case containing a large amount of money, a shotgun and somebody’s blood inside the car. The police initially suspect a blackmail gone wrong, but when the body of a young man is washed up on a near-by beach, it becomes a murder investigation.

Where and when: The contemporary plot covers several of the Faroes.

The detectives: The investigation is led initially by local detective Hjalti Hentze, “an unpolished man, at least in appearance.” He is soon joined by a visitor; Jan Reyna is a policeman who left the Faroes when he was five and was brought up by his aunt in England, and who now returns because the man found in the car is his estranged father. Hentze and Reyna work, sometimes together and sometimes separately, to solve the case – and uncover some dark secrets in Reyna’s Faroese family.

Sense of Place: Ould does an excellent job of conjuring up a vision of these remote islands, especially in the first third of the book when he is setting the scene for the plot. Right from chapter one there are repeated references to the wind, which seems to blow constantly across the forbidding landscape:

“The wind shepherded the clouds quickly across the bowl of sky between the undulating, rounded peaks of the surrounding mountains and fells. The landscape was treeless, brown green. In places it was traced out by black strata of rock.”

The buildings fit the landscape: Reyna describes the passing scene as he and Hentze drive to the isolated beach to view the body:

“Occasionally I spotted isolated concrete or stone sheds, most with rusty tin roofs, seemingly abandoned. There were no fields, fences or walls – almost no sense that anyone had any use for this open, treeless landscape.”

Reyna draws a direct link between the bleak landscape and the people who live within it:

“But it was the high, sculptured mountains on either side of the broad valley that took my attention the most as I tried to contemplate their scale. I wondered what living in these places did to your sense of personal meaning and importance. Did the overwhelming vastness press down on you – on your soul even – or did it make you expand against it?”

Landscape, architecture and people are brought together overtly in a later passage: “half the places I saw remained anonymous and impossible to interpret … unidentifiable, precisely designed buildings … Private, discreet, without show. The Faroese way.”

This is a place of shrouded mountain and valley, where the architecture is functional rather than beautiful, and the people are shaped by the uncompromising landscape and climate.

So, where next? After all of this rain and wind, I fancy somewhere hot and dry. So we are off to South Africa. Our next crime read is Nowhere, by Roger Smith.

World Crime Atlas is my retirement project to read a crime novel set in every country listed in The Times atlas of the world. I’m especially interested in the sense of place created by the author.

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