The Blood Strand – A Faroes Novel
By Chris Ould
A wealthy man, Signar Ravnsfjall, is found comatose in an abandoned car after an apparent stroke, with a shotgun on the passenger’s side and a spent shell on the floor, a million dollars in the back seat, and blood spatter which matches that of a man who is found dead a day later. This sets off a chain of events that has a local CID trying to solve a crime, despite the interference from his superior who’s more concerned with the political ramifications than getting to the truth. Meanwhile, the victim’s estranged son decides to visit his homeland in hopes of using his police expertise to find out the truth about his father, a man he never knew.
This book is set in the Danish island of Faroe and primarily focuses on two point of view characters: Jan Rayna, a British police detective who, upon learning that the father who abandoned him when he was five lies comatose after a stroke, is convinced by his aunt to visit Faroe in hopes that he can finally bring closure to his estranged relationship before he dies. And Hjalti Hentze, the local CID who’s in charge of the case.
Ould used two distinct point of views for each character. Rayna’s story was told in first person, which Hentze’s was told from the third person. Perhaps this was done to establish Rayna as the primary character. I found this decision odd, but grew to appreciate it as the story progressed.
Ould did an excellent job in describing the remoteness of the Faroe Islands and the distinct customs and idioms. There’s a Faroese phrase key in the beginning of the book where he explains different pronunciations throughout the book like “o” is an uh sound and “d” is silent in the Faroese language. He also vividly describes the bleakness of the isles and I liked the way he had most of the Faroesians struggle with the English language when talking to Rayna, who didn’t speak Faroese at all.
For the most part, the story plays out like your standard police procedural. Ould meticulously details recovering the evidence, putting clues together, and delivering different theories on what happened. Hentze stars as a no nonsense cop who’s unassuming in appearance, but uses that to his advantage in getting people to trust him. I especially liked the way he handled his superior, Michelsen, who although wanting to solve the crime, was primarily concerned with how things would look in the press. Hentze never clashed with him, but managed his boss by investigating the way he saw fit while telling Michelsen what he wanted to hear.
I enjoyed the friendship between Hentze and Rayna. While hesitant with each other at first, their respect for each other grew as they worked together to solve the case. While Hentze is painstakingly thorough in his investigation, Rayna is more of the intuitive detective. Hentze will ask someone the same question in five different ways to get to the truth, and Rayna reads tone and facial expressions to theorize the truth. The dichotomy between the two is what allows them to work together as both are devoid of egos that could cause any conflict.
The crime aspects of the book where interesting, but I lost interest whenever Rayna dealt with his estranged family. While visiting his father, Rayna meets his two half-brothers who have different, but predictable, reactions to him. Also, Rayna goes on a quest to find what happened between his mother and father all those years ago, which allows him to meet different people from his parents past. None of these people are particularly interesting and although Rayna was able to use some of what he learns about his father’s past to later help solve the crime, about forty percent of the book is spent with Rayna’s estranged family, and it ultimately bogged the story down.
Ould’s thoroughness in describing the police procedurals, although a strong point in their own rights, hurt the story because it deprived it of the element of surprise. I figured out who was responsible, although not to what extent, about halfway into the book. There are a few wrinkles thrown in as more people are involved in the case, and Ould does a good job introducing the new suspects and how they connect to the case. Overall, everything in the investigation is presented in a straight forward manner with no twist or turns. The one twist they did have was telegraphed earlier in the story and did not come as a surprise when they got to it. Also, the eventual culprit and their capture was unsatisfying and felt rushed.
There were several storylines that were brought up, yet never resolved. One thing that did bother me was how Rayna never fully confided in Hentze, even though through his internalization we learn that he respects and eventually trusts him. Rayna was suspended from his job in England and we never find out why even though Hentze keeps asking him throughout the story – to the point that he’s even hurt a little that last time he asks because at that time he felt they were friends. Also, Rayna mentioned this “black dog” that he has to keep under control, and which I suspect is the reason he was suspended, but besides him mentioning it a couple of times we never learned more about it. Finally, Ould hints at some relationship issues that two of Hentze’s underlings have, but that story also goes nowhere. However, this is the first book of a trilogy and perhaps those topics will be explored more in those books.
The Blood Strand
If you enjoy police procedurals like the hundreds that can be found on CBS, then this book is for you as it does a good job of describing all the minutiae of a police investigation and what it takes to solve a crime. It was hurt by its slow pacing and uninteresting side characters. This book was described as a Viking noir story, which is a bit misleading since it takes place in present time and there are no Vikings involved but their decedents.