We are not that familiar with Faroes, a self-governing archipelago, part of the Kingdom of Denmark, comprising eighteen rocky, volcanic islands between Iceland and Norway. And neither is the British murder squad detective Jan Reyna, the main protagonist of Chris Ould’s Faroese Trilogy. He left the stunning but harsh terrain with his mother Lydia when he was three, first going to Denmark, then to England. He refused to speak the language, sure he would never return. We first meet him in The Blood Strand (2016): he is compelled to go back when told that his estranged old father Signar Ravnsfjall was found unconscious in a car, with a shotgun by his side. The police found traces of someone else’s blood at the scene, and then a young man’s body was washed up on an isolated beach. Reyna gets gradually pulled into the case by the local detective Hjalti Hentze with whom he finds a common language. Both men work in similar way and so their mutual respect grows as Reyna also slowly starts understanding there is something innately conservative about Faroese people with their polite respect for privacy.
Reyna is drawn back to the bleak but fascinating landscape which reflects his own mood, the black dog of depression that he tries to fight. He reluctantly wants to learn about his family, the reasons behind his mother’s flight from the Faroes, and her subsequent suicide. He needs to deal with his anger, resentment and sadness of unfinished business with Signar; meets his half-brothers, and rekindles friendship with cousin Frida. He discovers the way local people live on these magnificent, remote islands and how this heritage might have affected his personality. Mainly Reyna is trying to come to terms with his own history and decide where he belongs.
In the next book The Killing Bay (2017) a group of international activists from the Atlantic Wildlife Conservation Alliance (AWCA) arrive on the Faroe Islands to shame the locals and to stop the traditional whale hunts, called grind. The main protestors voice their opinions to the entire world. Tensions run high even before the bloody event takes place in the waters by the beach. Among the protesters the photographer Erla Siversten seems quite sensible and objective. Later it becomes clear that she understood the meaning of grind, being a Faroese herself. Hours after the violent confrontation a woman’s body was found away from the port and the actual place where the enormous mammals had been slaughtered. The victim has been viciously attacked and left exposed near the building with the freshly painted slogan ‘F… the Whales’ which could only suggest the aftermath of the protests.
As Hjalti Hentze investigates the circumstances surrounding murder of the victim who turned out to be Erla, he soon loses his trademark calm and becomes more anxious when some evidence is found in the boat shed belonging to his son-in-law. Things seem to be getting personal. Jan Reyna remains mostly in the background, preoccupied with searching for his Faroese roots, concerned that depression is taking hold of him again, as he awaits his professional fate, suspended from work.
The final book in the trilogy The Fire Pit (2018) focuses on the apparent suicide of the unsociable alcoholic Boas Justesen, and the discovery of skeleton of a young woman on a windswept hillside. Hentze suspected it was a body of a Norwegian woman reported missing forty years earlier who together with her young daughter Else vanished from a hippy colony at hamlet of Múli. It was ran by a Danish man Rasmus Matzen, on the land owned by Justen, regular visitor to the commune. The Danish hippies had wanted to establish themselves far away from the constraints of formal society. But tough living conditions, inhospitable land and weather, and suspicious locals made the survival of the colony impossible in the long term. On top of that the idealistic notions seemed to hide some repulsive behaviours.
In Denmark Jan Reyna continues a private search into his mother’s suicide in 1976. Disillusioned with his job, he takes a drastic action to plunge into painful memories of others, mostly. He discovers own history, as well as devasting effects of the abuse of young women spanning four decades, and conspiracy of murder.
‘The old policeman’s maxim: never pass up the chance for the toilet, a coffee or something to eat’
The novels are beautifully written, tense and a touch melancholic, atmospheric and full of delicate mysteries that keep you guessing about Reyna’s life and wondering at how different background and traditions shaped his character. Chris Ould has full control over the tight interesting plots and main characters who had developed throughout the entire trilogy. Especially Reyna and Hentze work brilliantly as partners and as individuals, each using own skills and professional judgment to search for the truth, and bouncing off ideas. Hetze’s down-to-earth stoicism and determination make a welcoming change from a truly depressive cop.
Each book can be read as a standalone, dealing with individual investigation. However, it would be more satisfying and thought-provoking to read them in order. Chris Ould thoroughly researched the islands’ geography and history but his vast knowledge and deep passion are pared down to use only the vital snippets of information to move the stories along. The locations, both Danish and Faroese, are vivid and tangible, bringing real authenticity to the narration and truly fascinating background.
Reviews were originally published on Crime Review pages.