Strange Shores: An Inspector Erlendur Novel
Arnaldur Indridason’s STRANGE SHORES is the 11th book in the Inspector Erlendur series, and though it was originally released in 2010, it is just now seeing publication in the United States. Say a silent prayer of thanks for translators such as Victoria Cribb, whose efforts have produced a work of art that is no doubt the equal of its source material.
The unsettling theme running through all of these books is an incident in Erlendur’s childhood. Erlendur, his younger brother Beggi, and their father were caught in a sudden blizzard. The children were separated in the storm from their dad, and then from each other. Erlendur was subsequently found, a little worse for wear; Beggi, sadly, was never recovered. The loss haunts Erlendur to varying degrees during all of his waking moments, and drives his motivations as he investigates those who have gone missing and attempts to provide them with some form of justice. He continues, though, to haunt his boyhood home and its environs, as if in some sort of hope that he will puzzle out his younger brother’s final fate.
"STRANGE SHORES is not a pulse-pounding tale by any means, but it’s as intriguing a work as anything that Indridason has written. The pages seem almost soaked in sadness and loss, but the ending is satisfying, if not entirely uplifting."
What is revealed in STRANGE SHORES is that there have been other similar vanishings in the rough, unforgiving rural environs where Erlendur spent his early years. One of these is the disappearance of Matthildur, a woman who went missing in the mid-1940s under circumstances very similar to those in which Beggi disappeared. It is an incident that Erlendur grew up hearing and would be haunted by when his own brother was lost. As the story went, Matthildur’s distraught husband had reported that she had left to walk to her mother’s home in a nearby area; shortly thereafter, a sudden snowstorm occurred. She was never seen again, not even by some English infantrymen who were in the same area and who almost perished in the dangerous weather.
As STRANGE SHORES begins, Erlendur is in the present visiting his childhood home, staying at the abandoned house where he spent his early childhood and taking long walks across the familiar rural areas that surround it. He has a chance encounter with an elderly local man who, during the course of their conversation, happens to remind him of Matthildur’s disappearance. Though Erlendur is on leave, he begins an official investigation into Matthildur’s vanishing, a gently dogged pursuit of the truth concerning a case that is cold in every sense of the word and in many ways so closely parallels that which led to his own tragic loss.
While most of the principals involved --- including Matthildur’s husband --- are long deceased, a few of her contemporaries, key and otherwise, are not. Erlendur manages the neat trick of aggravating every one of them with his persistence, but it’s only because at least a couple of them have elements of the story that, for reasons of their own, they would rather keep hidden, if not buried entirely. A nudge here and a nudge there, and Erlendur ultimately gets his answers, along with something else.
STRANGE SHORES is not a pulse-pounding tale by any means, but it’s as intriguing a work as anything that Indridason has written. The pages seem almost soaked in sadness and loss, but the ending is satisfying, if not entirely uplifting. While Indridason’s plotting is first-rate as always, this is ultimately a very character-driven novel, full of memorable odd ducks with shadowy and heartbreaking motives who do sweet, sad and, yes, occasionally awful things. The message of the book is that, try as we might, there is so very little we can control, especially when it comes to life, which is so fleeting and fragile.
While I read STRANGE SHORES on a 90-degree Saturday at the end of August, it left me shivering, as if a regiment of spectres had stepped across my grave. If you are unfamiliar with Indridason’s work, this is a wonderful, though melancholy, way to remedy that oversight.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on September 12, 2014