This is the third book in Arnaldur Indriðason’s Reykjavík Murder Mystery prequel stories but only the second one to be translated into English. It is actually the 11th book by Arnaldur Indriðason. This book features the Icelandic detective Erlendur and his superior Marion Briem. It is usual to use first names in Iceland as so many surnames are identical.
The story is set in 1979 during the Cold War when the Americans have an air base at Keflavík. The body of an Icelander is found in a lava lake and the signs are that he has been murdered. The investigations take Erlender and Marion to the American air base as the dead man worked there. They are thwarted in their investigations by the American authorities but manage to enlist the help of Caroline, a military police officer stationed on the base. With her help the case is solved and the suspects handed over to the Icelandic police.
Erlendur has a fascination with missing persons and in this book sets out to find out what happened to Dagbjört, a 16 year old school girl who disappeared in 1953 on her way to school. “She haunted him like a ghost risen from the grave, ensuring that he was subject to constant reminders of her.” (p23) By speaking to various people who had contact with her, Erlendur solves the case.
I particularly liked:-
· the character of Erlendur – obviously we learn more about him in the later books and the reason why is seems to be obsessed with missing person cases
· although the investigations are carried out by two detectives, this is not a police procedural novel – all the interviews are informal and take place outside the police station.
· the tensions between the Americans and the Icelanders are well described.
· the author describes the weather and the Icelandic landscape very well so that you can sympathise with the Americans who were posted there but hated the dark, cold winters. “Exposed to open sea and northern blast, only the toughest of plants survived here, their stalks barely protruding above the level of the stones”. (p1)
· the ending is satisfactory in that both cases are solved in a dramatic fashion
I think this book works as a traditional detective story but also on a deeper level describing the clash of cultures between the Icelandic people and the richer Americans. Neither group is happy about the situation which the local people see as threatening their traditional way of life. However the additional jobs created by the air base are welcomed.
The author has written a number of books featuring Erlendur including Reykjavík Nights (the first of the prequel stories), Jar City, Silence of the Grave and many more.