#208: The Iron Chariot (1909) by Stein Riverton is Now Republished by Abandoned Bookshop!


In a post from a little while ago about authors unexpectedly having recycled ideas in their novels from other sources, mention was made of the Norwegian writer Sven Elvestad’s novel Jernvognen (1909), published under the pseudonym Stein Riverton, the solution of which was…heavily borrowed for a famous novel of detection in the 1920s (and, in fact, another in the 1960s…hint hint…though no-one thought to mention that).  The novel in question is rather explicitly mentioned in the comments, so, y’know, beware spoilers.

Translator Lucy Moffat popped up in the comments of that thread a couple of days ago to let us know that she has prepared a new translation of Jernvognen — under the English title The Iron Chariot — and it is out today, published as an ebook by Abandoned Bookshop (no paperback it seems, Sergio…).

There’s a lovely piece about it at the AB website, and the synopsis they provide there runs thus:

On a blazing hot summer’s day, holidaymakers at a guesthouse on a Norwegian island are shocked to discover a fellow guest has been found murdered out on a desolate plain. The nameless narrator, an author, was the last person to see the victim alive; shortly afterwards, he was disturbed by a noise like ‘a rattling of chains’. A local tells him this is ‘the iron chariot’, which is said to presage death.

Detective Asbjorn Krag is summoned from the capital of Kristiania, and sets about investigating the murder. When a similar death occurs on the plain, it is again preceded by the eerie sound of the iron chariot, which leaves no tracks. Mystery is added to mystery when the victim turns out to be a man believed to have died several years earlier.

Drawn unwillingly into the investigation, the narrator is puzzled by the enigmatic detective’s apparent inaction, and troubled by unfolding events. These begin to take a toll on his mental wellbeing and he sinks into a state of dread, exacerbated by mysterious happenings at the cabin where he is staying.

So profound is his unease that he feels he must leave the island. Then Krag promises to tell him the solution to the mystery…

Even knowing the ending, I’m pretty psyched about this, and felt it more than worth sharing.  My thanks to RavenKing — legit King of the Ravens, I checked — for mentioning this in the first place, and to Lucy for dropping by to let us know it was happening.

I believe it will be available at all the expected places; let’s check it out, eh?

22 thoughts on “#208: The Iron Chariot (1909) by Stein Riverton is Now Republished by Abandoned Bookshop!

  1. I initially thought that I would not buy this book since it had been spoilt. However, I was curious regarding the plot and the writing style. Also the ebook is moderately priced. Hence I have bought it !


  2. I’ve just bought it too – I’m assiduously avoiding the comments for the post you flagged up. I was slightly surprised that the page count indicated on Amazon is only 131. Hopefully it turns out to be short but brilliant. Will you be reading and/ or reviewing it anytime soon? Or does it get bumped down due to prior familiarity with the ending?


    • I mean, I’ve bought it, but I’m never sure how far ahead of myself I’ll be with reading, it’s generally a book-by-book thing. I’ll likely read it in 2017, that’s as much as I’ll promise at present…


  3. I didn’t go to the other post, but unless I’m being dense here, your “clews” plus the synopsis itself seem to point in an obvious direction. So the question is: should I or shouldn’t I bother????


    • I intend to read it from a genre history perspective; it’ll be very interesting to see what that type of fiction was like in Norway at that time, especially since it may not have made it over here and so is arguably a separate school.

      But, well, that’s just me. You’ll have to judge your own level of interest and/or wait for some reviews, I guess. I’m sure you’ve got plenty to be getting on with in the meantime!


      • Actually, Stanford University is offering a class on Scandinavian crime fiction – all of it new, of course – and I would be such a cool smartass if I had some ancient stuff like this under my belt!


        • Yeah, but think of the weeks you’d then have to pretend to enjoy Sjowall and Wahloo, Hanning Mankell, moody alocholism, snow, descriptions of snow, descriptions of staircases, policemen married to the job with dissatisfied wives, decriptions of moody alcoholics in the snow, descriptions of dissatisfied wives resroting to acoholism (probably in a stairwell and with a window open to allow some snow in…)…not worth it, mate.

          Though if anyone has a Jo Nesbo recommendation I’ll take it; I’m inclined to believe he’s not my kind of thing at all, but I should at least give the guy a chance.


          • The Nesbo book on the list is The Bat.

            You forgot that every alcoholic detective with the dead/unfaithful/cancer-stricken wife has a jovial neighbor who used to be/wants to be/has to be a Nazi/serial killer/child molester.

            Maybe I’ll meet some nice people . . .

            Liked by 1 person

            • I have a feeling that The Bat might be the first Nesbo book, not necessarily the one that shows off his qualities as an author at their most…good.

              And, yeah, maybe you will meet some lovely snow-, unhappy wife-, alocholism-, and weirdo neighbour-obsessed people; look at the lovely ones who hang around this corner of the interwebs alking about murder and tain timetables, after all.

              Liked by 1 person

  4. This looks an interesting book so thanks for the news.


    “Sven Elvestad’s novel Jernvognen (1909), … the solution of which was…heavily borrowed for a famous novel of detection in the 1920s (and, in fact, another in the 1960s…”
    Well, Chekhov’s only novel beats all of these examples, but whether it was known of in order to be borrowed is another thing. The idea for the novel of the 1920s was admittedly suggested to the author by Lord Mountbatten. But we should agree in this case as to whether the idea is ‘the narrator’ or ‘the Watson’. For the latter there are other earlier examples (Trent’s Last Case, The Layton Court Mystery); for the former, in addition to those mentioned, something like Leo Perutz’s Master of the Day of Judgment (1921) (an unreliable narrator, if not precisely the same) comes into consideration as well.


    • Yeah, I think the issue over translations, general awareness, and individual tastes/reading will make it all but impossible to narrow down precisely where things like this originally appeared…it’s cool that a few authors were thinking along the same lines in this regard, though, and I personally kinda like the idea that they all just came up with it independently of each other. Would The Iron Chariot have been translated before that 1920s novel for the author of that to steal it? I dunno (rest assured, someone somewhere does…) but it’s cool that these things echo each other all the same, and if one person can think of it (I mean, there had to be an original source at some point in history) then two easily could.

      Also, thanks for saving me the effort of going back and reading Trent’s Last Case to find out what the fuss is about. Yeesh, I did not get on with that book…


  5. Since Chekhov’s only novel The Shooting Party was published in 1884, he may be regarded as the originator of the idea. Here the narrator is the examining magistrate !


  6. Hey JJ, thanks for the recommendation. I bought it when I first read your post, and I completed it in a couple of sittings today. When I first started I wasn’t aware of which Golden Age novel had recycled its central idea, but started sniffing down the right track quite early on. Which was similar to my experience of one of Paul Halter’s novels I didn’t especially enjoy – if you know what I mean!

    The puzzle for ‘Iron Chariot’, to be fair, was not straightforward, but I wonder if the complexity necessary to sustain the twist needed to involve widening the circle of suspects? Which a problem that the Golden Age novel managed to side step.


    • Hmmm, I’ll bear this in mind when I get to reading it myself — glad it was worth the time, though, and it’ll be interesting to make the comparison with The Other Novel. Thanks for letting me know!


      • It would be interesting to read your review of it, if it surfaces to the top of your TBR anytime soon! I’m looking forward to your take on the book you have scheduled for next Thursday – it’s sitting in my Kindle. 🙂


  7. I have read the book. It is quite good and full of suspense. Worth reading. Unfortunately we know the ending; otherwise it would have been more suspenseful !


  8. So far, I have read 6 novels where the [EDIT: same sort of person] is the murderer. The authors are:
    1. Agatha Christie (2 books)
    2. Stein Riverton
    3. Anton Chekhov
    4. Paul Halter
    5. Brian Flynn


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