Maria Adolfsson reimagines the former island of Doggerland in first part of new crime series Fatal Isles

  • Fatal Isles, by Maria Adolfsson. Zaffre, $19.99.

Growing up on a small island in the Irish Sea, listening to the British Shipping Forecast on the radio was a ritual of life. It is still an institution in the UK today, broadcast on Radio 4.

The remote, outlying parts of the British Isles and surrounding seas the Shipping Forecast refers to are places most listeners have never visited nor could point to on a map. There are 31 areas, including Dogger, a rich fishing area in the North Sea, 100kms of the North East coast of Britain.

Dogger, at one time known as Doggerland, connected Great Britain to continental Europe, but was flooded by rising sea levels around 6500-6200 BC.

Swedish author Maria Adolfsson has resurrected Doggerland in her series of crime novels set on an imagined, desolate windblown island nation of the same name, in the middle of the North Sea between Great Britain and Denmark.

In Fatal Isles, the first in the series, Adolfsson introduces her detective, Karen Eiken Hornby, who has returned to Heimo, the main island, after a family tragedy while living in London. Despite having "successfully completed her police training, had done six months in the field and held a bachelor's degree in criminology from the London Met", she has been consistently overlooked for promotion in the Doggerland Police force.

After an alcohol-fuelled night out celebrating the annual oyster festival, Karen wakes in a hotel bed with Jonas Smeed, the head of CID, both her boss and a sexist bully. Her self-reproach turns to self-preservation when later that day, Smeed's ex-wife Susanne, is discovered brutally murdered and Karen is the only one who can give him an alibi for the time of her death. Life becomes even more complicated when she is put in charge of the murder investigation, and Smeed is suspended until he's cleared of suspicion.

Despite the tight-knit island community, Karen and her team find few clues and no obvious motive for the murder. Susanne Smeed wasn't popular, estranged from her daughter and her ex-husband's family, but all have solid alibis. Karen begins to suspect that, in true Nordic Noir tradition, the answer lies in the past, as Susanne was born in a short-lived commune, established by Swedish hippies on Heimo in the 1970s. Fatal Isles is an impressive debut combining an empathetic main character tormented by her past, with a detailed, complex police procedural. Adolfsson's main achievement, however, is Doggerland, a believable island nation where everyone knows everyone else and the mistrust of outsiders runs deep.

After the Storm, the next in the series, is due for publication in 2022. This reviewer can't wait.

This story An intriguing murder in remote British Isles first appeared on The Canberra Times.