BookBrowse Reviews The Hermit by Thomas Rydahl

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The Hermit

by Thomas Rydahl

The Hermit by Thomas Rydahl X
The Hermit by Thomas Rydahl
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Nov 2016, 480 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2017, 480 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez

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How can one old man, cut off from the modern world, solve a murder whose dangerous web of deceit stretches far beyond the small island?

If you can be comfortable with Scandinavian noir played out against the sun-drenched backdrop of balmy Fuerteventura, in the Canary Islands, you're in for a treat. Rydahl's debut is just that, complete with a complicated, anguished sexagenarian Danish transplant named Erhard Jørgensen, plus a seemingly unsolvable mystery, and a couple of goats named Laurel and Hardy. The goats eat the clean laundry off Erhard's clothesline and he eats canned food straight from the can. They share a pleasant, isolated co-existence at arm's length from neighbors. Erhard left Denmark, his wife and two daughters in 1997 for reasons he keeps to himself. Now it's New Year's Eve, eighteen years later, and the island cab driver/sometimes piano tuner is lamenting his advancing years. About to knock on the door of a woman he hopes to spend time with, he catches a glimpse of himself in the nameplate.

The face is indistinct. A pleading, confused face dominated by two eyes wedged between a stack of wrinkles and shabby skin, topped off with a tired beard. A desperate face. In it he can see love and sorrow, he can see decades of bewilderment and alcohol, and he can see the cynical observer, appraising and judgmental. It's an appallingly wretched face, difficult to penetrate, difficult to stomach, difficult to love. But worst of all it's his face.

He quickly realizes the folly of this endeavor. It is "a fantasy only a horny man can imagine. That's something he hates about growing old. Going from the physicality of a youth lacking spirit to pure spirit lacking physicality." At another point he mocks himself as, "gas from the asshole of the earth, here today and gone tomorrow with only the memory of the stench remaining." Gotta love those Danes.

He has friends. Actually there are more than he realizes and far more than any so-called hermit ought to have and still abide the sobriquet. One of them is Raul Parabras, playboy scion of the island crime syndicate. Erhard, Raul and Raul's girlfriend Beatriz frequently enjoy imbibing to the wee hours on the rooftop patio of Raul's apartment building. He is also friendly with Raul's father Emanuel, whose piano he tunes on a regular basis. Erhard seems a decent, honorable guy.

But then he's first on the scene of an automobile accident. The car's occupant – his neighbor – has been killed and the ring finger separated from the body. Before contacting the authorities, Erhard pockets the finger, ring and all. He keeps the finger, bizarrely pretending it is the one he's missing on his own hand – until it becomes unrecognizable as a finger.

Erhard and his friends soon encounter an abandoned stolen car on the beach and he becomes obsessed with the contents of a box on the car's backseat. The police inform him that the box holds the remains of 12-week-old boy who died of starvation. The crime is unspeakable. However local authorities, fearing tourism will drop off it they don't solve it quickly, decide it's better paying a prostitute to say she's the child's mother than actually investigate the crime. In exchange she will receive cash and a bare minimum time in prison.

Erhard is livid and decides to solve the crime himself. He has no computer or computer knowledge, no cooperation from the police (indeed, just the opposite), no crime-solving resources of any kind – except for his now all-consuming obsession with locating the perpetrator. Along the way there are some surprising – I might even say startling – plot twists that expose more of Erhard's quirks, obsessions and personal idiosyncrasies. In the end, it is no wonder Rydahl received Scandinavia's coveted literary award for crime fiction, the Glass Key.

Lastly, a warning and a pat on the back. First, the warning: do not read any other reviews of The Hermit if you intend to read the book. Far too many of them contain excessive (by which I mean one or more) spoilers. Next, the pat on the back: kudos to K.E. Semmel who did an outstanding job of translating The Hermit. It feels seamless.

Reviewed by Donna Chavez

This review was originally published in January 2017, and has been updated for the June 2017 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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