Arnaldur Indridason is a well-known Icelandic author of murder mysteries set in present day Reykjavik.
Black Skies is the most recent in the Detective Erlendur series though in this installment Erlendur himself is away. This book was written in 2009, but it is the most recent to be translated into English. The action this time primarily involves Sigurdur Oli, Erlendur’s colleague and friend. Oli is an interesting character, and this novel reveals information about his childhood, his troubled marriage and his many prejudices and irritations. And, his tendency to leap before he thinks, often resulting in very dangerous situations. We also meet again a character from an earlier novel, Andres, a middle aged man, an alcoholic, whose own desperate childhood has left him irreparably damaged.
Black Skies involves a case of murder, of course. The victim is a woman who enjoyed frequent casual sex, but discovers that some of her partners are not as willing to be as open about these activities as she is. Woven into the story is the booming Icelandic economy prior to it’s crash in 2008. Business is flourishing and some are making a lot of money – but many are simply over extended financially.
There is always lots of interesting information about Icelandic culture in Indridason’s novels – in this one there is the high incidence of alcoholism and the popular drink Brennivin. And the debt collectors – a veritable army of thugs who break knee caps on demand. There is a legal system that passes such lenient custodial sentences that no matter how often the police make an arrest those who are convicted are often free in very short order – resulting in a society where many citizens take matters into their own hands, meeting out their own justice – or vengeance.
Indridason is now also writing a new series set in Reykjavik during the Second World War, a series that begins with The Shadow District and now continues with The Shadow Killer.
The Shadow Killer opens with the story of a commercial traveller, Eyvindur, purveyor of furniture and shoe polish, as well as Dutch tableware. He is not a particularly successful salesman, unlike his acquaintance, Felix. When one of these men is found shot dead, execution style, in his flat shortly after returning from a sales trip, the investigation begins.
We then meet Thorson, an Icelandic-Canadian seconded to the American Police Corps as an interpreter. And, Flovent, the Icelandic detective. As they are being introduced to each other, I am confused, because I know they worked together in the first novel in this series, which I read last spring, until I realize that Indridason is not writing these books in chronological order, and that the story in this novel takes place earlier than the first. It is 1941, “just before the American troops are scheduled to relieve the British garrison and take over responsibility for the defence of Iceland.”
Iceland was of both Allied and Nazi interest strategically, but it was also of interest to the Nazis, as some believed Iceland was the source of the pure Germanic-Nordic race ever since Viking times.
The death of the salesman is a confusion, and it is soon discovered that there has been a mistake in identity. There are a number of suspects and a storyline that involves the ‘Situation’ of Icelandic girls and women becoming involved with American and British soldiers.
Whether it is present day Reykjavik or the city under the shadow of the Second World War Indridason’s novels are superb.