Classic Crime: The Iron Chariot

This is a brand-new translation of a Norwegian novel that’s more than 100 years old – so don’t pick it up expecting cutting-edge Scandi crime or the bleak brutality of Nordic noir. Instead The Iron Chariot offers a nostalgic interlude in the golden age of the private detective. Puzzle-solver and independent investigator Asbjørn Krag is nothing less than the Norwegian equivalent of Sherlock Holmes, and this story is every bit as eerie and unsettling as The Hound Of The Baskervilles.

ironchariot

In fact, The Iron Chariot is a clever blend of gothic suspense – all swirling mists and the melancholia of the midnight sun – and the art of intertwined plots, in which sleight of hand and deductive reasoning simultaneously confound and reward the reader. Some aspects of the writing style feel a little twee to the 21st century eye, but the author establishes the outline of crime fiction to come. There’s a tip of the hat to forensic science, the idiosyncratic investigator, a rising sense of dread and uncertainty – and in common with today’s trendy psychological thrillers, all is far from what is seems. Apparently, Saint Agatha herself was inspired by the middle-class country holiday, and 20 years later she ‘borrowed’ one of the author’s central plot devices!

Also, for anyone who’s enjoyed the recent theatrical revivals of Hedda Gabler and The Master Builder, there’s more than a sniff of similarity between the tone and style of Stein Riverton’s writing and Henrik Ibsen’s plays. You can feel the same swirl of social unease at the tricky transition from a traditional agrarian economy to the industrial 20th century. The iron chariot itself is a menacing presence; perhaps a haunting from the past, perhaps a portent of an oppressive future…

An unusual read, then. If you enjoy classic crime and first-generation gothic ghost stories then it’s likely to entertain. If you prefer domestic dramas or ‘inside the mind of a serial killer’ thrillers then it’ll most likely mystify you, but not in the way Stein Riverton intended.

Oh, and congrats to the publisher, Abandoned Bookshop, for taking the risk of resurrecting such an unusual novel. Their mission is to ‘uncover the best books we’ve forgotten about, lost sight of, or never even knew existed’ – definitely worthy of support. Likewise, translator Lucy Moffatt has done a wonderful job of capturing the atmosphere of Norway in 1909; resisting the temptation to modernise the writing yet making it easily accessible to readers more familiar with the likes of Jo Nesbø and Stieg Larsson. Top job.
8/10
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
The Iron Chariot by Stein Riverton is available as an ebook

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