The Hermit, by Thomas Rydahl

Seven stars

Continuing my tour of mysteries the world over through the eyes of authors new to me, I came across Thomas Rydahl. Winner of a few Danish literary awards, I thought it worth a look, if only to compare it to some of the other Scandinavian work I have read over the past few years. Erhard Jørgensen enjoys the quiet life with his two goats. A Danish ex-patriot living on the Canary Islands, Jørgensen contradicts himself by driving his taxi around for tourists and tuning the odd piano when requested by locals. His isolated lifestyle has earned him the moniker The Hermit, though Jørgensen winces whenever he hears it, choosing to defend his lifestyle as one of a tranquil senior citizen. When the local authorities approach him for help on a case, Jørgensen throws himself into the investigation and turns this into his newest obsession. A baby has been found dead in a car, wrapped in the pages of a Danish news magazine, but no one can identify either the child or the vehicle in which he was found. As Jørgensen seeks to learn a little more, the police choose to take the easy way out and bribe a prostitute to take the fall. However, Jørgensen wants justice and and answers, even if he will have to do it alone. Where the investigation takes him, only Jørgensen knows for sure, but when he finds himself in the middle of a travesty, things take a definite turn for the worse. Now a man with secrets of his own to keep, Jørgensen struggles to keep from revealing too much while he continues to search for the truth. As things become clearer, the question remains as to whether Jørgensen will be able to convince anyone to believe him before he becomes the next victim. A superior noir mystery that takes many turns, Rydahl has a winner on his hands. Patient and diligent readers ought to take a look at this finely-crafted piece, if only to weigh-in on the discussion.

The art of reading a novel not in its original language is one that some readers may find difficult, as I have come to learn through numerous conversations and review analyses. I find that a writer cannot necessarily be held accountable for the flow and rhythm of a story when the reader is given something other than the original text, in which language has been put through some sort of sieve. While I love Scandinavian mysteries and find their stories so intriguing, they are not for everyone. This novel’s content differs greatly from the British, Australian, or even North American publications that saturate the market, which has both positive and negative attributes. With a decent translator, a story can hold its foundation effectively, though a poorly penned novel cannot necessarily be resuscitated. I would venture to say that Rydahl’s novel survived its linguistic metamorphisis, as the intricacies of the narrative work well. The great set of characters that emerge as the story flows prove highly entertaining and thoroughly captivating. Of course, Erhard Jørgensen remains the protagonist and his quirks prove both disturbing and very alluring to the attentive reader, especially his fiaxation on his life back in Denmark and the missing finger for which he metaphorically searched throughout. Rydahl develops Jørgensen slowly and pulls pieces of his backstory out throughout the narrative, as if to tease the reader into wanting more, but having to wait awhile before the full picture can be offered. The narrative is one that I would say remains uniquely Scandinavian, as it trudges along, but always gets to the key elements at just the right time. I recently read an Irish author who also enjoyed her ‘pulling molasses in January’ narrative, but Rydahl is perhaps even more methodical in his pacing. Detail is key and Rydahl certainly does that throughout, depicting the smallest thing with the most attention and pulling the reader closer to investigate. One major example is a depiction of a sexual encounter, which, while graphic in nature, is told in such frank terms with linguistic complexities that one could never feel that it is by any means smutty. I found Rydahl offering the reader doses of this detail, though no turning the entire novel into something gazed upon under a microscope, with minutiae filling the page. The symbolism is found throughout the story and the search for justice pushes the story and its protagonist forward from the opening paragraph, though there is also a keen banter in the dialogue, which peppers English, Danish, and forms of Spanish idiosyncrasies throughout. That being said, I am still not sure how I feel about the novel, Erhard Jørgensen, or the entire premise involved. Unique and memorable for sure, I am not ready to place Rydahl alongside some of my other favourite authors from the region. We shall see if time allows my thoughts to ferment a little more and for me to have an epiphany. Still, an interesting read that some who understand the noir mystery might find right up their alley. 

Kudos, Mr. Rydahl for impressing me in some places while also leaving me wondering in others. I will be sure to keep an open mind, though my first impression is surely one of an author deserving of the literary accolades that have been presented.

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