Welcome to the next stop on the blog tour marking the publication of The Killing Bay, the second of Chris Oulds’s Faroese thriller series. I reviewed The Blood Strand last year and was highly impressed by this debut introducing the detective duo of Jan Reyna and Hjalti Hentze, drawing a comparison with Peter May’s Hebridean trilogy and the sense of place that Ould conjures up in his writing. Here is an exclusive extract from the new book, and would urge you to seek out this series quick smart…
When a group of activists arrive on the Faroe Islands to stop the traditional whale hunts, tensions between islanders and protestors run high. And when a woman is found murdered, circumstances seem designed to increase animosity. To English DI Jan Reyna and local detective Hjalti Hentze, it becomes increasingly clear that evidence is being hidden from them, and neither knows who to trust, or how far some people might go to defend their beliefs….
‘At the eastern end of the broadly curved bay, Erla Sivertsen panned her camera along the line of people standing on the grass-covered sand dunes above the beach. More were arriving – men, women and children – coming from the road and a line of parked cars. Some of the men carried ropes and hooks, striding purposefully until they reached the edge of the grey sand, then halting to look and assess. No one went further. That was the way of it. You waited until the whales came to the beach.
At each end of the bay there were groups of AWCA volunteers, easy to pick out through the viewfinder because of the light blue sweatshirt they all wore. AWCA, pronounced as “Orca” by its members, was the Atlantic Wildlife Conservation Alliance. They had been on the islands for nearly two months, but this was the first time they had been scrambled, ready to take action, and it seemed that only a dozen or so had made it here in time. Now, like everyone else, they stood with their attention trained on the sea, watching the line of disparate boats ploughing closer and straining for sight of the whales.
Erla shifted the camera again, adjusting the focus on the telephoto lens. There were nearly two dozen police officers stationed at intervals along the line of the sand dunes, all dressed in tactical gear. Some had been brought in by a naval helicopter – clearly a show of strength by the authorities – and Erla knew that when her footage was edited the dark uniforms and bulky equipment of the police would look truly ominous in contrast to the unarmed AWCA protesters.
Having captured the scene down the length of the beach, Erla stopped filming for a moment and checked the progress of the boats out at sea. She’d witnessed four other grinds in her life – the first when she’d been six or seven years old – and knowing the way things would go now, she’d already planned the footage she wanted to get. Video was not her favourite medium, but she knew it would have the most impact when showing the actual drive. Then she’d use stills for the aftermath of the kill.
The whales were still more than three hundred metres from shore but now there was a growing desperation in their movements. They had sped up and broke the surface of the water more often. Their slick, arching bodies were more tightly grouped, as if they sensed that they were running out of room to manoeuvre. And still the boats came on behind them, grouping them tighter, pushing them in.
Finally the larger boats slowed and stopped to let the smaller craft take over and Erla knew it was time. She moved the camera and refocused on the Alliance protesters at the nearest end of the beach, waiting.
And then it started. At a signal the protesters moved into action, each taking a length of scaffolding pipe from the ground and then running quickly down towards the water. No one pursued them, but there were shouts of protest and gestures of resentment from the locals on the dunes.
The protesters paid no heed. They waded straight into the water, using their metal poles like walking sticks to test the bottom, moving out further through the low, rolling swell until they were thigh deep, spacing themselves out at intervals. And then, in a ragged line, they produced hammers and crow bars from pockets and waistbands and started to bang their submerged scaffolding poles as hard as they could, adding to the noise with shouts and whistles.
It was a tactic no one had anticipated and for a moment the onlookers weren’t sure how to respond. The police shifted uncertainly, but then they seemed to receive an order over their radios and left their positions to jog quickly across the sand and into the water. They were followed by several men from the crowd and when the protesters saw them wading into the shallows they redoubled their noise-making and moved further out into the water.
Because the water hampered everyone’s movements equally it produced the strange effect of a slow-motion game of tag in which no one could outdistance anyone else. Whenever the police made headway towards them, the protesters waded deeper or moved left or right, all the while keeping up their hammering and whistling, which became ever more urgent as the whales got closer to shore.
Erla kept the camera trained on this cat-and-mouse game for a few seconds more, then zoomed out and panned round to the open sea. The whales were concentrated together now and behind them the bullying boats had increased their speed. It almost seemed that the whales and boats were racing each other to be first to the land, but then – a few metres from shore – the whales hesitated, as if realising their mistake. A few made to turn back, but the imperative of the boats prevented it, and then, as the creatures finally reached the shallows, the people on the dunes swarmed forward. They ran across the sand and plunged into the water amidst the thrashing of fins and black bodies and Erla held the shot, zooming in slowly on the churned waters and the first men to seize their prey.
Through the lens Erla spotted an AWCA sweatshirt, adjusted the focus and managed to zoom in close on an American woman she recognised, just as she was finally corralled between two burly cops. They were all up to their chests in the water and seeing the whales already thrashing in the shallows, the woman appeared to realise she’d failed. When the police officers took her by the arms she just stood there, and as Erla zoomed in closer she was pleased to capture the look of abject misery on the woman’s face. Even at this distance you could see that she was crying with grief. It was a good picture.
Finally lifting her eye from the viewfinder, Erla glanced around. There were a few spectators nearby but everyone’s attention was focused on the whales and no one took any notice of her as she quickly unclipped the camera from its monopod and started down from her vantage point. Her AWCA sweatshirt was well covered by her red waterproof jacket and there was nothing to tell her apart from the other Faroe islanders.’
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