Book Review: Kalmann by Joachim B. Schmidt

In Kalmann  by Joachim B. Schmidt, an eccentric man with an intellectual disability propels this moving slow-burning Icelandic mystery.


by Joachim B. Schmidt

Translated by Jamie Lee Searle

Published by Bitter Lemon Press

on May 10, 2022

ISBN 978-1-913394-684

Genre(s): International Mystery & Crime

301 pages

From the Publisher

“Kalmann is the self-appointed Sheriff of Raufarhöfn. Day by day, he treks the wide plains which surround the almost deserted village, hunts Arctic foxes and lays bait in the sea — to catch the gigantic Greenland sharks he turns into the Icelandic fermented delicacy, hákarl. There is nothing anyone need worry about. Kalmann has everything under control.

Inside his head, however, the wheels sometimes spin backwards. One winter, after he discovers a pool of blood in the snow, the swiftly unfolding events threaten to overwhelm him. But he knows that his native wisdom and pure-hearted courage will see him through. There really is no need to worry. How can anything go wrong with Kalmann in charge? He knows everything a man needs to know about life – well almost.”

Raufarhöfn, a tiny, dwindling fishing village on the northeast Icelandic coast, is an emotional prison for the characters of this intriguing, slow-burning mystery. Its main character is a man with an intellectual disability. Kalmann (his first name) is a shark catcher and Arctic fox hunter. He is also the self-appointed Sheriff of Raufarhöfn, a village with no police department. Despite having no official appointment, Kalmann goes about wearing a cowboy hat, sheriff’s badge, and Mauser pistol, all of which he inherited from his American father. He’s kind, conscientious, and haunted by a crime, the disappearance of a man named Róbert McKenzie, the wealthiest resident of the village. While hunting an Arctic fox, Kalmann discovers an enormous pool of blood outside the village and then learns that McKenzie has gone missing.

Once the authorities from Reykjavik arrive, they determine the blood belongs to McKenzie, but they cannot find the body. From the outset, once we understand Kalmann’s intellectual disability and eccentricity, he becomes a somewhat unreliable narrator. For example, he tells Hafdis, the police officer investigating the matter, that a polar bear might have killed and eaten McKenzie. That makes it difficult to be truly sure what is going on with the crime or whether there actually is a crime. But Hafdis continues investigating, the authorities continue searching for a body, and Kalmann determines to solve the case. After all, he is the Sheriff of Raufarhöfn and feels responsible for keeping his community safe.

The murder mystery structures the book. But its core is Kalmann, a confused and confusing man in equal measure. He is a character who wins the reader’s empathy from the start. So it is definitely a character-driven story. But before it ends, there are many twists, some not unanticipated but shocking nevertheless.
Schmidt crafts an absorbing plot, springing surprises to the very end. Kalmann is the quirkiest Icelandic crime fiction novel I’ve read but is most definitely worth your time.

An eccentric man with an intellectual disability propels this moving slow-burning Icelandic mystery.

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher used for this review, representing my honest opinions.

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