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Posted: April 22, 2017

Lead character personifies Nordic noir

Book Review

By Derryll White

Indridason, Arnaldur (2010). Strange Shores.

Like many of Arnaldur Indridason’s works, ‘Strange Shores’ opens with an exploration of the harsh, rugged nature of Iceland – the storms and extreme cold, and the challenges man faces in this environment.

The author makes several casual references to the brutality global capitalism is inflicting on the pristine nature of Iceland’s rural fjords. He makes one pause and think about whether colonialism is still alive and well in today’s society.

There are extended references to hypothermia, both the physiological and psychological effects of it. Detective Erlendur, the story’s primary character, got lost in a blizzard with his younger brother when both were very young, and this event has stayed with him throughout the series of Erlendur novels. In ‘Strange Shores’ the detective revisits the rural eastern region of Iceland where the event in which he lost his brother occurred, trying to put the angst and loss to rest. While doing this he reveals the confrontations between old and new ways besetting Iceland at the current moment.

The story shows at length how the passions of a local historian are used. Erlendur does not act as a policeman in this story; in fact he is on holidays. Rather he acts as an inspired local historian who doggedly runs after strands of a distant story, gently pushing and molding the results into a tangible, believable outcome. I love the persistent, almost consuming devotion with which he acts, forcing the past to slowly surrender its secrets.

Indridason plays a strange hand here. Detective Erlendur runs two investigations simultaneously, one reaching back more than 60 years and the other back into his own childhood, when he was 10. He is on vacation and is careful not to act officially as a policeman in either cold case. Both investigations are brought to conclusion, but in doing so they enact the demise of Erlendur himself.

I will miss the brooding, enigmatic and distant figure of Detective Erlendur, who has consistently called into question the modern development of Iceland and the sacrificing of traditional ways. He effectively contrasted his home country with the travel bucket list Iceland that tourism operators portray. Erlendur personified Nordic noir for me and I am sad to see him go.

What ‘Strange Shores’ did do for me is underline the value of a series of novels, the rich nature of character development over time. It suggests that it would be worth a reader’s time to return to the beginning and read the set in sequence. I know that is something I will do.


GLOBALIZATION – … he thought about the foundations that were being sunk for a vast aluminium smelter in the picturesque setting of Reydarfjörd Fjord, and the giant freighters that docked there transporting construction materials for the plant and the controversial hydroelectric dam at Kárahnijúkar in the highlands. He couldn’t understand how on earth an unaccountable multinational, based far away in America, had been permitted to put its heavy industrial stamp of a tranquil fjord and tract of untouched wilderness here in the remote east of Iceland.

LOSS – … his attention began to stray back to Hrund and to the fate of all those left behind when their loved ones depart this life without warning, leaving the survivors to wrestle with feelings of bereavement and even guilt. When someone disappeared, all the focus was on the lost person, on the circumstances of their life and possible explanations for what had happened.

– Derryll White once wrote books but now chooses to read and write about them. When not reading he writes history for the web at

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