Author – Stein Riverton (translated by Lucy Moffatt)
Published – 2017 (in English) 1909 (in Norwegian)
Genre – Crime fiction
I was intrigued by the publisher’s description of this book as being one of the greatest Norwegian crime novels of all time. Abandoned Bookshop was publishing, in a modern translation by Lucy Moffatt, what may be the first commercially available English translation of The Iron Chariot. I’m not a fan of everything that’s ‘nordic’ but I thought this should be worth reading.
The quiet idyll of a summer retreat on a Norwegian island is disturbed by the discovery of the dead body of one of the guests. The circumstances make murder seem a possibility and the the local police seem ill-equipped to investigate, so Detective Asbjorn Krag is summoned from the capital of Kristiania to take charge. The story is narrated by one of the guests at the hotel, a young man who is staying there alone. The evening before the discovery of the body he was on a night-time walk and heard a mysterious noise – a rattling and thrumming which a local fisherman told him was the ‘Iron Chariot’, last heard some years previously on the night a local farmer died.
While the opening sees the first oppressive heat of the summer, the author uses the change in weather and landscape and moves a lot of action to the night to create a tense and atmospheric read. The pace is is a little slow but probably what what you would expect from a book of the period. The investigations of the detective and unusual circumstances give a claustrophobic and disturbing feel as the story reaches its climax. The menace of the ‘Iron Chariot’ adds a potentially supernatural element to the story and the sinister occurrences take their toll on the narrator with an increasing feeling of oppression and sense of dread.
It’s easy to compare Krag with detectives like Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot (or even Columbo!). He’s an odd character who behaves a little strangely and appears to be taking an unconventional approach to solving the mysteries. His success in identifying the ‘Iron Chariot’ however, suggests that in the end he’ll get to the bottom of the murder.
The translation seems to be seamless, there’s never a word or phrase that jars. For a book that’s over a hundred years old it’s surprisingly readable and I’m sure this must owe something to the skills of the translator too! It’s remarkable when you consider the date this was published compared to other more ‘groundbreaking’ crime fiction authors who were writing in English, this really does seem to have been ahead of its time.
Well worth a read. Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.