The Blood Strand by Chris Ould
Titan Books (February 2016)
Chris Ould’s The Blood Strand is a solid start to a promised trilogy of novels set in the Faroes islands, a small, isolated community that’s just as complicated – and captivating – as the novel’s characters.
British police detective Jan Reyna was taken from the Faroes by his mother when he was just a child, and he’s never known why. Reyna returns when his estranged father falls ill, only to find his father has been implicated in a murder investigation. Evidence from that case points to blackmail, and the entire sordid affair begins to turn back in ever-tightening circles to include more members of Reyna’s family. The investigation is led by a local detective named Hjalti Hentze, a refreshingly level-headed sort who quickly realizes that Reyna, like himself, has but one agenda: to uncover the truth.
Ould’s approach to the police procedural impressed me in a number of ways. For one, he bypasses the typical route of putting outsider Reyna at odds with local cop Hentze. Yes, Hentze is suspicious at first – Reyna is, after all, the son of the man at the center of his investigation – but once Hentze realizes that Reyna truly has little personal attachment to his father or to the case’s outcome, he welcomes the detective’s experience and insight. I also liked that Ould portrayed both men as being excellent at their job without making them appear superhuman. They make mistakes, jump to incorrect assumptions, and stumble into their share of dead ends, but they’re not incompetent – they’re simply working each angle of the case as presented to them.
The book is long; Ould takes his time letting us get to know his characters, using them in turn to introduce us to the old-fashioned pace and customs of the Faroes islands. Everything, from the people to the place to the pace of the investigation, feels authentic, due in no small part to the care Ould takes doling out the right details and textures. Ould’s writing style is spare almost to the point of nonexistent, but it’s what works best in this type of story; essentially, Ould has removed himself completely from the equation, so that it’s the tale, not he who tells it.
Leisurely-paced it may be, but The Blood Strand is also a compelling, at times gripping novel that uses a self-contained story to set up a much larger framework for Ould to utilize in his next Faroes books. While the central mystery is wrapped up in satisfying fashion, there are larger questions left for Reyna to answer. Personally, I’m looking forward to joining Ould on his next journey to this small but fascinating destination.