‘The Greenland shark is a miracle of nature, even though it wouldn’t win any beauty contest. It has a marvelous sense of smell, probably better than that if a dog […] is far down on the seabed, two hundred metres deep or two thousand metres deep, it doesn’t matter to the shark.’
The above information is essential if you are serious about catching sharks. Also, you need to be aware of their various habits, and what they like to eat to make a success of hunting for these enormous creatures. By the way: ‘it’s a complete nonsense that red-haired children used to be used as bait – even though you could use them if you really wanted.’ It’s not a job for the faint of heart or those who cannot properly commit and just want an easy catch. But of course, Kalmann knows everything about this subject and that’s why he is also the best shark-catcher in the tiny village located on the northeastern tip of the Melrakkaslétta peninsula, in the north of the country. In fact, he’s renowned for producing the best hákarl, the fermented shark meat delicacy which could easily kill people with its powerful stink. But it doesn’t kill. Hákarl is appreciated only by some connoisseurs, and Kalmann is fine about it. He is familiar with how the village inhabitants live, react and deal with life; he feels responsible for them; after all he is the self-appointment Sheriff of Raufarhöfn; complete with a cowboy hat, a sheriff badge and an ancient Mauser, physical memories of his American father. Wise and courageous, he takes pride in protecting people and every day he treks across wide plains, hunts Arctic foxes and keeps an eye on any reckless polar bears that might feel inclined to swim from Greenland to Iceland. His routine keeps him grounded and relatively happy, though he makes no secret of his wish to find a wife urgently, OK, his first girlfriend. Basically things are fine. Well, sometimes his brain works in a truly strange way but at the age of nearly thirty-four he is definitely not a village idiot even if he didn’t spend much time at school and was called a retard, and eats too much of Cocoa Puffs (but ‘never for lunch. That was my rule’). He relies on his gut feeling, in times of need wants his mother who works as a nurse in Akureyri, and desperately misses his Grandfather who slowly withers away in a residential home in Húsavík. Yes, that Húsavík of Eurovision Song Contest: The story of Fire Saga fame. And Akureyri that you might have read about in Oskar Guðmundsson’s The Commandments.
Back to the small community… When one day towards end of the winter Kalmann discovers a pool of blood in the snow, the sequence of very small events threatens to overwhelm him. He accidentally tells someone about his discovery, police are notified, and he realises that local businessman Robert McKenzie, otherwise known as the King of Raufarhöfn, is missing. But is there any connection between this disappearance and what Kalmann has seen? Is the existence of almost deserted village in peril? Was Robert eaten by a large animal or killed by the East European mafia? Detective Birna arrives from Reykjavik, and suddenly the remote isolated spot on the Icelandic map, 609 kilometres from the capital, becomes more news-worthy than a political summit.
If you had no interest in Icelandic flora and fauna before then now it’s time to get acquainted through Kalmann’s eyes and his simple but wise thoughts. Joachim B. Schmidt’s mission seems to be enlighten us in the manner of glorious madness akin to TV series Fargo or the Finnish author Antti Tuomainen’s fictional universe. We have snow, cold and some darkness; weird characters and formal protocols; gossip and stereotypes; tenderness and compassion. What we don’t have is the corpse or the visual evidence of the crime, and we’re not totally sure about the motive as speculations get wild. As the police investigation progresses and Kalmann’s head begins to explode from the contradicting theories and invasion into his calm naïve existence, we also get rough dark humour and realisation that we might live in parallel worlds where events can be seen and understood in contrasting ways. The background of serious issues such as losing fish quotas and impact of the changes on the lives of people dependent on stable climate: social and meteorological, adds to the beauty of this unusual and rich novel superbly translated by Jamie Lee Searle. You will love Kalmann.
‘People need rules in life, that’s important, because otherwise there would be anarchy, and anarchy is when there are no police and no rules and everyone does whatever they want. Like setting fire to a house, for example.‘
The author Joachim B. Schmidt was born in Grisons, Switzerland in 1981 and emigrated to Iceland in 2007, where he now lives with his family in Reykjavík and works as a journalist, writer and tour guide.