WHEN a novel opens with the words “He was on the roof of their little cottage mowing the thick and umber turf” it’s safe to assume the story’s not set in London, New York or Tokyo.
Lawn-clad houses are commonplace in the Faroe Islands, however, adding a special dash of other-worldliness to the work of a crime writer seeking an exotic backdrop for an equally unpredictable plot.
In fictitious Djevulsfjord on the real-life island of Vágar, the community’s tightly intertwined fishing families subsist on ever-dwindling ocean harvests. Summer is almost at an end by the time Djevulsfjord makes its first substantial catch of the season: a pod of “blackfish”, or pilot whales.
As locals band together to divide up the result of the traditional grind, Benjamin and Jónas Mikkelsen skulk on the periphery, Benji towed along in the wake of his trouble-making younger brother.
District sheriff Tristan Haraldsen and his wife Elsebeth are foreigners on the west coast of Vágar, newly arrived as sea-changers from the relative metropolis of the Faroese capital, Tórshavn. Tristan’s job is to ensure the grind adheres to government regulations – a role that marks him as an outsider employed to observe while the rest of the village participates.
When the inevitable altercation occurs it’s 10-year-old Jónas who in a split-second of fury attacks, slashing Tristan with a whaling knife before fleeing with Benji onto the nearby mountain, Árnafjall.
Almost immediately the treeless moors, razor-edged crags and jagged cliffs seem to devour the pair, leaving no trace to be found by searchers.
The boys’ mother, Alba, waits in anguish. The previous year her own sibling, Kaspar, was killed by a fall from Árnafjall, and two other men either died or disappeared in unexplained circumstances at about the same time.
For such an insignificant hamlet Djevulsfjord is fast amassing an unnervingly long list of casualties.