As an intro to my travel-focused blog, I thought it would be interesting to devote a few lines to the preparation for a trip. Of course we all know that we have to do logistical planning: the plane reservations, the itinerary, lodging, rental cars, and all that. How much to plan and how much to leave to serendipity is a personal choice and we have individual points of view on that. I’m a planner by nature, so I tend to get all the dates and places lined up. That is especially true on my current trip to the Hebrides, because a number of ferry crossings are involved and I definitely don’t want those to go awry.
But what about the other type of preparation? By that I mean getting your mind and spirit ready to see and understand a place? I may be the only person I know who does this by reading detective novels. OK, I admit that that is my favorite genre of fiction in any case (and of TV shows as well, but I’ll hold that topic for a future post). I have found that well-written detective novels give quite profound insights into the character of a place – the landscape, traditions, cultural attitudes, even the economic and educational systems. It sounds strange, but it’s true.
So for this trip to the Hebrides, I discovered the Lewis trilogy, by award-winning Scottish novelist Peter May. This three-book series follows the cases of Fin MacLeod, an Edinburgh-based police detective who was born and raised on the Isle of Lewis, the northernmost and most populated island in the Outer Hebrides. In the first book, The Blackhouse, a series of circumstances has brought him back to Lewis to investigate an unusual death in the town where he was raised. Of course, he runs into his old pals and complications ensue as he tries to unravel the circumstances of the death.
I couldn’t put down these books. They brought home the power of kinship and ties of friendship in these remote and sparsely populated islands. Life can be as dreary as the weather. Chores and daily responsibilities are taken very seriously, as they are necessary if the family is to eat and be kept warm. The landscape and the wind is harsh. Adolescents take a lot of risks. As I head out to see the places that I’ve read about, I’m eager to see if my mental image accords with reality.
I’ve been astounded to discover detective novels set in many of the places I’ve visited in recent years. Indeed, I had no idea there was a genre of “Scandinavian Noir”. Now I’m addicted. Caveat: Scandinavian crime novels can be pretty dark.
In case I’ve piqued your interest, here are some recommended authors, and the locales of their detective novels:
John Burnett (Thailand)
Jake Needham (Singapore)
Arnaldur Indridason (Iceland)
Jussi Adler-Olsen (Denmark)
Jo Nesbo (Norway)
Jorn Lier Horst (Norway)
Happy reading and travels!
Next post: Isle of Iona