Mysterious Book Report No. 499

by John Dwaine McKenna

Kalmann, (Bitter Lemon Press, PB, $16.95, 300 pages, ISBN 978-1-913394-68-4), by Joachim B. Schmidt, and translated by Jamie Lee Searle, is by far the most unusual, unique and unforgettable novel of this summer’s reading season.  Already a best-seller in Europe, it’s a carefully plotted and well-written murder mystery that takes place in a  remote corner of Iceland . . . at the tiny dying settlement of Raufarhöfn, where, like Steinbeck’s “Cannery Row,” the fish are gone but a few stubborn residents refuse to move on.  There, we meet the self-appointed sheriff of the tiny enclave and the endearing narrator of this noirish tale; a mentally handicapped thirty-four year-old named Kalmann Odinsson, a man who hunts Arctic foxes and catches giant Greenland sharks for a living . . . a character who will touch your heart . . . right from the first page. Kalmann is mocked by the villagers, while at the same time, loved for his naïveté and philosophical observations, but never taken seriously.  He’s a man without pretentions—a man looking for a wife— a man who calls it as he sees it, without varnish or embellishment.

As the novel begins, Kalmann is out on the tundra at the request of the school principal, hunting an Arctic fox he’s named “Schwartkopf,” when he discovers a pool of blood in the snow.  He returns to town with blood on his hands and reports his findings.  That’s when, in his own words “I got nervous, I felt guilty, even though I hadn’t broken any laws and hadn’t killed anyone.  Regardless.  I braced myself for trouble.”

The blood in the snow turns out to be that of a local entrepreneur named Robert MacKenzie and the town soon fills up with police and reporters as a massive manhunt begins.  Kalmann is never directly accused of murder, but the reader can’t help but feel that he’s strongly suspected as the novel unspools to its shattering conclusion.  Kalmann is a character with a story and a personality that will reach out and touch the reader in ways not felt since Forrest Gump first went to Vietnam.  A terrific book club selection, word-of-mouth, as more folks discover, read and discuss Kalmann, in our opinion, is destined to make it a classic, and one for the ages!!!


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