Friday, 4 March 2016

Strange Shores - Arnuldur Indridason

It is 2010 and Inspector Erlunder in on leave, revisiting - as he often does - his childhood home in rural East Iceland. Being Icelandic and a loner, Erlunder camps out in a long-abandoned, ruined cottage - despite sub-zero nighttime temperatures.

He is drawn back to his roots because this is where, forty years ago, everything changed for him.  He was ten, his brother Bergur ('Beggi') was eight, yet they accompanied their father out into a snowstorm to rescue sheep.  The boys became detached from their father. Erlunder made it home, Biggi didn't.

What can Erlunder hope to find after four decades?  Beggi's body was never found.  Erlunder speaks to the locals (who do not share his big-city sociability). The suggestion is made that foxes might have scavenged the remains and taken bits back to their earths.  Hunters often discover bits and bobs.  One of them, the especially curmudgeonly Ezra, found a toy car - the little red car that Biggi had in his mitten that fateful night and which Erlunder was jealous of.

Ezra can't remember, after all these years, where he found the car.  But he remembers another disappearance in a snowstorm that dates back even further - Matthildur, the wife of Ezra's fishing partner Jakob, disappeared during an especially vicious snowstorm in 1942.  Other people have mentioned Matthildur's disappearance to Erlunder. So little happens in this remote district that it is still a talking point seventy years later.  The intriguing thing is that the body was never found, even though an entire British Army squadron caught in the same storm all turned up eventually, dead or alive.

The missing body hooks Elender and he sets out to solve the mystery.  Why did she decide to set out to cross the mountain in January?  Was it something to do with her nasty-sounding husband?  Did her disappearance link in some way to Jakob's death, in a shipwreck seven years later? Why do some many people still care?  For exactly the same reason that he, Erlunder, cannot rest - cannot escape his memories and his dreams - until he has found his long-lost brother.

All he knew was that somewhere on his journey through life time had come to a standstill, and he had never managed to wind the mechanism up again. [p. 275]
I was wary when I realised that this was an out-of-series novel but Indridason has a masterful way of switching between past and present.  You always know where and when you are, even when you are sharing Erlunder's hectic dreams.  Indridason uses short punchy chapters but keeps the pace slow, drawing you deeper and deeper into the story.  The revelation, when it comes, is really dark.  The resolution of Erlunder's framing story is really touching.

For me, the best Indridason I have read so far.

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