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Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Blood Strand by Chris Ould

Titan, 448 pages, $14.95

Do you know where the Faroe Islands are? In the cold sea between Iceland and Norway. The Faroese speak their own language, but quite a few also know Danish and English. Denmark provides them with administrative benefits but, if you go by this book, the Faroese mind their own culture and manners.

Like series set in the Scottish Isles, the cold, rainy, isolated setting lends a lot of atmosphere to a murder mystery. British author Chris Ould has chosen his setting well. Most of the action takes place on the island of Streymoy. It is more than adequately cold and rainy.

British police detective Jan Reyna — who forgoes the proper Faroese pronunciation of his name, Yan Reyná, until he is in the Faroes — is visiting on a personal mission. Under some kind of cloud at work, he has a leave of absence, and decides this is the time to find out what happened between his mother and father to make his mother flee to Denmark. He would have asked his mother, but she committed suicide when he was young. He was raised by his aunt and uncle who had moved to England. And now he journeys to the Faroes to talk with the father he had last seen more than a decade ago. That meeting, when Jan was seventeen, did not go well. Actual blood was spilled and Jan returned to England no wiser.

Actually, Reyna has come because his father is in the hospital. He suffered a stroke under strange circumstances. He was found alone in an isolated area. There was blood spattered in the inside of his car. In his trunk was a case full of money. His shotgun had been discharged. Unfortunately, Signar Ravnsfjall is unable to communicate with anyone, thus putting paid, perhaps permanently, to gaining any knowledge of his mother from Signar. The mystery deepens when the police find that the blood in the car is not Signar’s.

Reyna has not come in his capacity as a cop, but he can’t help but ask questions. Questions of his half-brothers, Magnus and Kristian, and questions of the lead detective, Hjalti Hentze. Reyna is respectful of Hentze’s authority, so he is not inclined to interfere. But Hentze realizes Reyna’s potential usefulness, and so begins Reyna’s slow absorption into the investigation.

Then the body of a young man, Tummas Gramm, is found on a beach. Hentze plays his cards close to his chest, but Reyna soon intuits that Hentze thinks the man’s death has something to do with his father’s last activities. 

It might be considered a drawback that Reyna only speaks English, but most of the rest of the world is remarkably multilingual, and the Faroese are no exception. His lack of language does not prove to be an impediment. And a good thing, too, because there are many interviews to be carried out, including with some of his family members.

Ould packs a lot into the 448 pages of his book. He tells a straightforward story, but he infuses his narrative with scenic details and interesting characters, with a small history of some small islands thrown in. He has a great sense of pacing and the story flows easily. The only gimmick he uses — and while I didn’t mind it, I don’t think it was necessary — is Reyna’s portion of the story is told in the first person, and the scenes following the rest of the characters, primarily Hentze, are told in the third.

“The Blood Strand” is a solid story, carefully plotted and well-written.

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