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Authors: Michael Ridpath

Tags: #Crime, #General, #Mystery & Detective, #Fiction

Edge of Nowhere

 

First published in Great Britain in 2012
by Corvus, an imprint of Atlantic Books Ltd.

This digital edition published in 2012 by Corvus.

Copyright © Michael Ridpath 2012. All rights reserved.

The moral right of Michael Ridpath to be identified as the authorof this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

This is a work of fiction. All characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

eBook ISBN: 978 08578 9726 8

Corvus
An imprint of Atlantic Books Ltd
Ormond House
26-27 Boswell Street
London WC1N 3JZ
www.corvus-books.co.uk

 

CONTENTS

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

 

1

 

Baldur was smiling. Baldur never smiled. Magnus was suspicious.

Baldur Jakobsson was the inspector in charge of the Violent Crimes Unit of the Reykjavík Metropolitan Police, and Magnus’s boss. He was in his forties, about ten years older than Magnus, with a long, lugubrious face beneath a high, bald dome of a forehead. He was not known for his sense of humour. ‘I have just the case for you,’ he said. ‘Now you’ve graduated and we can send you out on your own.’

‘Sounds good,’ said Magnus carefully.

Although Baldur knew all there was to know about Icelandic police work, Magnus had far more experience of the serious stuff. It was true that Magnus had just graduated from the Police College, but that was after a long stint working as a homicide detective with the Boston Police Department. The Icelandic National Police Commissioner had requested the loan of a detective from the States with big-city crime experience and, as a fluent Icelandic speaker, Magnus had seemed perfect for the job. But it was necessary for that officer to be familiar with the laws and policing methods of the country in which he was operating, hence the six-month spell at the Police College. Magnus couldn’t argue with that.

‘We have a suspicious death,’ said Baldur. ‘Ágúst Sigurdsson, forty-five, construction worker. He was killed under a landslide while repairing a road. It’s probably an accident, but the local constable feels there is a possibility the slide might have been started deliberately.’

‘Why does he think that?’

‘The location of the landslide. And the victim was unpopular in the village.’

‘I see,’ said Magnus. ‘And where is this village?’

‘Bolungarvík,’ said Baldur, his lips twitching upwards. ‘The edge of nowhere.’

Magnus knew where Bolungarvík was. To the north-west of Iceland a peninsula in the shape of a hand with outstretched fingers reaches out into the Atlantic. The area is known as the West Fjords and is the most remote part of a remote country. Right at the tip of the longest of these fingers lies Bolungarvík.

Magnus glanced out of the window of Baldur’s office. It was mid December and sleet was driving horizontally across the police car park. That was in Reykjavík. In Bolungarvík the weather would be a lot worse.

He glanced at Baldur’s long face. His boss was doing his best to suppress a smile. For Baldur to be that amused there must be more to the case than an isolated village in bad weather.

‘Are there any suspects?’ Magnus asked.

‘Oh, yes,’ said Baldur. ‘You are going to need all your forensic-science and criminal-profiling expertise for this one.’

Magnus waited for more explanation, but Baldur was making him ask. ‘Tell me.’

‘The hidden people,’ Baldur said, his disconcerting grin re-emerging.

‘Hidden people?’

‘That’s right.’ Baldur laughed out loud. ‘They think the poor guy was killed by elves.’

The small commuter plane bumped and jolted and then banked alarmingly as the pilot guided it down through thick cloud on the approach to the airport at Ísafjördur, the largest town and administrative capital of the West Fjords. Magnus had been there once before, on a trip back to Iceland with his father when he was fifteen. He smiled to himself as he remembered the trip: a week hiking together along the uninhabited north coast.

Although Magnus had been born in Iceland, he had followed his father to America when he was twelve. His father had ensured Magnus retained contact with their homeland, speaking to him in the language, reading the sagas with him, and taking him on one-week hiking trips to the Icelandic wilderness every year. It was something father and son looked forward to.

Until Magnus’s father died, stabbed by an intruder when Magnus was twenty. The police had never found his killer. Magnus was still looking.

Suddenly the plane emerged beneath the clouds into a spectacular amphitheatre of grey and white. They were only a few hundred feet above the dark waters of the fjord and steep mountains rose on all sides. There was no sign of the sun, which, at this latitude and time of year, skipped above the horizon for only a few hours a day. The lights of Ísafjördur gleamed ahead, the arms of its harbour walls grasping the sea. Mountains and town glimmered white in the snow.

There was a stiff crosswind, but the pilot crabbed the plane down on to the runway with only the smallest of bumps. Magnus leaned into the breeze as he and the other passengers battled their way to the small terminal.

Inside he searched for the black uniform of a police officer, but couldn’t spot one. He did see the lone taxi outside the terminal drive off with two other passengers. He felt a flash of impatience: he had made it to the Reykjavík City Airport and on to the plane to Ísafjördur within an hour of receiving Baldur’s instructions. It was a bit pathetic if the local police couldn’t even get from Bolungarvík to Ísafjördur to meet him.

‘Sergeant Magnús?’

He turned to see a tall woman approach him. He had noticed her as soon as he had arrived in the terminal: she was very noticeable. She was a couple of years older than Magnus – in her late thirties probably – lean, with long curly blond hair and a strong jaw. Although she was wearing a warm parka, like everyone else in the terminal, there was something elegant about her. Her stylish silver earrings, perhaps, or her subtle make-up.

‘Yes?’

She held out her hand. ‘I’m Eyrún. I’m the Mayor of Bolungarvík. Tómas, our policeman, didn’t want to waste the hours of daylight: he’s searching the scene right now. Since I was coming through Ísafjördur on my way back to town, I said I could pick you up.’

‘I’m honoured,’ said Magnus. He was also impressed that the local cop had got his priorities right.

Eyrún led Magnus to a Land Rover Freelander and within a few minutes they were on their way westwards out of town.

‘Actually, I was grateful of the opportunity to meet someone new,’ the Mayor said. ‘It can get a little lonely up here.’

‘I guess it can,’ said Magnus. ‘But you must be used to it.’

‘Not yet,’ said Eyrún. ‘This is my first winter here. I come from Reykjavík.’

‘That figures,’ said Magnus. ‘I didn’t have you down as a local.’

‘A year ago I was a corporate lawyer flying to New York and London all the time. Then the
kreppa
came and Iceland didn’t need quite so many corporate lawyers.’ The
kreppa
was the Icelanders’ name for the credit crunch, which had hit them particularly hard. ‘I thought it would be good for my husband and me to slow down a bit, get out of the rat race. So I applied for the job of Mayor in Bolungarvík.’

‘They must have leaped at you.’

‘I thought landing the job would be easy, but it turned out there were sixty applicants, many of them better qualified than me.’

‘But they took you?’

Eyrún smiled. ‘Yeah. I guess they must have liked me.’

Of course they liked her, thought Magnus. She must have been the best thing to hit Bolungarvík for years. ‘How do you like them?’

‘The work is actually pretty interesting. There’s a lot going on for such a small town: the population of the village itself is just short of a thousand. And by and large I like the people. The isolation just takes more getting used to than I expected.’

They were driving along the edge of the fjord. Mountains rose steeply on all sides into the thick folds of grey cloud that acted as a ceiling to the narrow corridor of water winding out towards the open sea.

They approached a junction. Directly ahead was the mouth of a tunnel, but the entrance was blocked with a ‘Road Closed’ sign. Eyrún turned right along a road that hugged the shore.

‘Bolungarvík is at the head of the fjord,’ Eyrún said. ‘There’s only one road there and that’s this one, Route 61. It’s frequently blocked in winter by avalanches and rockslides, which is why they built the tunnel.’

‘When will the tunnel be finished?’

‘It is finished. But the landslide blocked the road on the other side. It would only take half an hour to clear it, but Tómas insists it’s a crime scene and won’t allow them to touch it.’

‘Good for Tómas. I bet that doesn’t make him popular.’

‘Oh, I don’t know. There’s quite a few people in town who think the road should stay blocked.’

‘Why?’ asked Magnus.

‘The hidden people.’

Magnus checked to see whether Eyrún was joking, but she wasn’t. Baldur excepted, many Icelanders, if not most, took the hidden people seriously.

Traditionally, Icelanders believed that their country was populated by a parallel society of human-like beings known as
huldufólk
, or hidden people. They generally kept themselves to themselves, but occasionally interfered in the lives of their more visible cousins. Every farm and village in the country had its tales of hidden people seducing young men or women, punishing wayward farmers, or providing helpful advice. The hidden people lived in rocks, the locations of which were passed down to their human neighbours through the generations. It was common for a hidden person to appear in the dream of the mother or grandmother to suggest a name for a new born child.

Hidden people were important people. Even well educated and sophisticated Icelanders like Eyrún wouldn’t deny their existence, although they usually wouldn’t characterise themselves as whole-hearted believers either.

Eyrún saw the way that Magnus was looking at her. ‘I tell you, up here in Bolungarvík it’s much easier to believe in the hidden people than it is in Reykjavík. The town is so isolated, the mountains are so big. It’s dark. There are storms, avalanches, strange things happen.’

‘Like road workers being buried under rockslides?’

‘That’s what people in Bolungarvík are saying.’

‘So the hidden people killed Ágúst?’

‘Gústi everyone called him. And I guess that’s something for you to find out.’

 

2

 

‘There it is,’ said Eyrún. ‘Bolungarvík.’

They had skirted a headland and in front of them, across a bay in the fjord, crouched the village. It was wedged on to the western edge of a small, flat plain, surrounded on three sides by steep mountains, and on the fourth by the sea. A cluster of white buildings clung tightly to the foot of the tallest mountain, a great block of snow-covered rock at the mouth of the fjord, towering above the town. A harbour wall stretched out into the sea, and beyond it, and beyond the great mountain, lay the Atlantic Ocean, swelling with power and danger.

The wind was blowing the clouds away behind them to the east, leaving dark blue sky tinged with pink. The sun was lurking somewhere behind the mountains to the south-west. At this time of year, dawn and dusk crowded out the daytime.

‘It’s a beautiful spot,’ said Magnus.

‘It’s beautiful from a distance,’ said Eyrún. ‘Up close it’s a different matter. The town’s architecture isn’t going to win any awards.’

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