As a typical Americentric citizen, I have to admit that my knowledge of world geography remains pretty darn paltry. But even if I wasn’t a total dunderhead when it comes to picking out countries on an unlabeled map, I’d probably flub it when it came to the Faroes Islands. A tiny cluster of islands ‘tween Norway and Iceland, they provide a suitably moody setting for a new series of police procedurals by British screen writer Chris Ould.
The Blood Strand (Titan Books) introduces us to our detectives: British copper Jan Reyna and local detective Hjalti Hentze. Reyna has been brought to the islands after his estranged father Signar has been discovered in his BMW by the ocean, unconscious and with money and a fired shogun by his side. Signar’s presence in an isolated area with money and gun (plus a smattering of blood on the scene) suggest possible foul play, and when the body of a young ne’er-do-well is found washed up on a nearby beach, Reyna finds himself enmeshed in more than just an awkward family reunion. Tentatively teaming up with Hentze, the troubled detective searches to uncover the facts behind his hospitalized father’s involvement in both blackmail and murder.
Carefully crafted and deliberately paced (for some readers, perhaps too deliberately), with its investigative duo forced to negotiate complex family interrelations, their own uncertainties about each other, as well as the region’s local mores, The Blood Strand works hard at introducing us to the social intricacies of its unfamiliar setting. Ould emphasizes his prodigal detective’s differentness from the people around him by writing chapters from his first person perspective – while those chapters centered on the Faroe Islanders are written in third – as we discover the islanders’ ways along with Reyna. In addition to the crime, our Britisher is also invested in learning why his mother left the Faroes and divorced his father (a powerfully forbidding figure in the community), and this mystery is given almost as much importance as the murder.
For those who like their mysteries bleakly atmospheric, as aware of cultural intricacies as they are the working of the police system, The Blood Stand is a winning opener in what promises to be an engaging trilogy of crime novels.