On a blazing hot summer’s day, holidaymakers at a guesthouse on a Norwegian island are shocked to discover that a fellow guest has been found murdered on a desolate plain. The nameless narrator, an author, was the last person to see the victim alive; shortly afterwards, he is disturbed by a noise like `a rattling of chains’. A local tells him this is `the iron chariot’, which is said to presage death. Detective Asbjorn Krag is summoned from the capital, Kristiania, and sets about investigating the murder. When a similar death occurs on the plain, it is again preceded by the eerie sound of the iron chariot, which leaves no tracks. Mystery is added to mystery when the victim turns out to be a man believed to have died several years earlier. Drawn unwillingly into the investigation, the narrator is puzzled by the enigmatic detective’s apparent inaction, and troubled by unfolding events. These begin to take a toll on his mental well being and he sinks into a state of dread, exacerbated by mysterious happenings at the cabin where he is staying. So profound is his unease that he feels he must leave the island. Then Krag promises to tell him the solution to the mystery…
Originally published in 1909, The Iron Chariot was voted the best Norwegian crime novel by Norwegian crime writers in 2017 and is here released in it’s English translation. Thank you to Eye and Lightning books for my paperback review copy.
Throwing us straight in at the discovery of the body of a fellow guest, this dreamlike novel begins with our unnamed narrator holidaying in a remote spot enjoying the sunshine and sea breeze. As he explains his movements of the previous night to us, the reader, it becomes clear that our narrator could well have been the last person to see the victim alive. However, at some point in the night he heard a disturbing noise like ‘a rattling of chains’ and is told by a local fisherman that this is the legend of The Iron Chariot and whenever it is heard a death is sure to occur.
On the arrival, from the mainland, of our other main character Detective Krag, he soon attaches himself to our narrator and the investigation begins. However, with the discovery of a second body, our narrator’s worsening mental heath and the constant reminder of the legend the story and plot take a very unsettling turn.
Along with the fact that this book was originally written in 1909 and it’s ‘out of body’ like atmosphere it made for a very different and interesting read. Our narrator appears more and more unreliable as the book moves forward, and as it is only ever from his point of view that we learn of events, we are never quite sure what to believe. It has a strong feeling of disconnection, not just in its remote location, but also in it’s characters. It is clear that the narrator is becoming affected by the events but the detective is also a strange character. The way he talks and acts, almost like he isn’t really taking much interest in the case gives the book even more of an uncertain and tense atmosphere. I thought there was a slight ‘Sherlockian’ feel to his detective skills and appears to use his mind more than his body to find out the truth behind what has happened.
We follow the two through the next few days and learn more about The Iron Chariot and the murdered guest, but also being delighted by the description of the surrounding countryside and area around the hotel.
A slightly gothic and certainly tense read with marvellous, bizarre brooding dread The Iron Chariot is a relatively short novel, at 176 pages, but definitely gives the reader a lot to think about. Well worth a try.
The Iron Chariot is published today, November 28th, by Lightning Books.