Once Norwegian, now a self-governing Danish province, the remote Faroe Islands form an isolated community with its own, unique culture. The perfect setting for a new thriller, which seems to be targeted more at crime enthusiasts who enjoy Shetland mysteries rather than readers who typically enjoy translated books from Scandinavian authors.
Devil’s Fjord is written in English by a practised hand from mainstream thriller mysteries, and the story settles immediately into a reassuringly familiar format. We meet the key characters in a village environment – the unwelcome newcomer from the big city, the alpha male who dominates local politics, the dubious priest, the shrewish fishwife, the trollop, the troubled youth – and, of course, a tight-knit, secretive community which has no truck with folk from the big city. Inevitably there’s a sequence of dark secrets which simultaneously bind these people together and yet threaten to tear apart their centuries-old way of life… and there’s a dead body and a missing child at the middle of the mystery.
All of this is delivered in Hewson’s typically workmanlike fashion; no particular frills but easily readable and well-presented prose. He’s certainly done his research into modern life on the Faroe Islands and delivers a convincingly credible depiction of the tough life endured still by many who depend upon the sea and a few sheep to fend off starvation each winter.
Hewson also gets top marks for tackling head-on the difficult subject of ‘the grind’, the islanders’ harvest of what they call ‘blackfish’. Isolated rural communities like the one in this book still depend on whale meat for their survival, and Hewson doesn’t flinch from voicing both sides of the argument with some passion. But be warned; if you don’t like explicit scenes of violence then you won’t want to read the opening chapters in which he describes the deliberate stranding and slaughter of a pod of whales – it’s probably more disturbing than most murders you’ll read in a serial killer thriller. And, indeed, the subsequent events in Devil’s Fjord had less impact on me than the fate of the whales.
Get past that part and you’re treated to a satisfying detective story with a slew of sympathetic characters, plenty of clues layered throughout the story to help you figure out the mystery on your own, and some satisfying comeuppance at the end.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Devil’s Fjord by David Hewson is available at Amazon