Review: Arnaldur Indridason – Black Skies

The last book by Arnaldur Indridason, Outrage, saw the usual protagonist of the series, detective Erlunder disappear for an extended leave of absence and the investigation taken up by his female colleague, Elinborg. I enjoyed the book but missed the character of Erlunder so was slightly apprehensive when I noticed he had not yet returned for Black Skies. This time, the central police figure is Sigurdur Óli, known in previous books mainly for his attempts to become a parent with his partner Bergthóra.

Although written in 2009, the book is set in 2005, at the height of Icelandic economic boom. Sigurdur Óli attends a high school reunion and notes with dismay that most of his contemporaries have become rich from the country’s economic success. However the friend of one his classmates is being blackmailed after he and his wife were photographed at a swingers party. Sigurdur Óli agrees to pay a visit to the blackmailer but before he can speak to her, he surprises an attack on the woman by an unknown assailant. Sigurdur is now in a difficult situation as he tries to remain involved in the police investigation without revealing the reasons for his presence at the murder scene.

Meanwhile an elderly man has been taken prisoner and had placed over his head a leather mask fixed with a spike, similar to those used by Icelandic farmers to kill their animals. It is clear that a disturbed individual is extracting revenge for past misdemeanours.

Such is Indridason’s skill as a writer that the elevation of Sigurdur Óli as a central character worked very well. Instead of once more focusing on the the fertility problems experienced by him and Bergthóra, we see instead the toll that it has taken on their relationship and the separate paths they are now following. The emphasis on the personal seemed to chime in with the plot. Sigurdur is pressurised by a personal acquaintance to investigate a blackmail plot, and when things start to disintegrate this friend unfairly blames Sigurdur for coming to the attention of the police.

Although the blackmail plot is related to husband and wife swapping parties thankfully this isn’t at the centre of the book. Instead the focus is on the greed of bankers and those in associated professions at the height of the economic boom. As the author makes clear it is not only the selfishness of the bankers that is to blame for the spiralling debt situation but the archaic Icelandic laws which fail to provide a legal structure to address financial abuse.

The book was, as usual, an engrossing read and although the relevance of the man with the mask wasn’t initially clear, the links are eventually made. The book is full of incidental detail including reference to the absent Erlundur, Sigurdur’s relationship with his divorced parents and the despair of the police at the justice system which fails to keep repeat offenders off the streets. As readers of Indridason will know, these are themes that crop up again and again in his writing.

Other reviews can be found at Eurocrime, and Crime Time. An interesting article appeared in the Metro about this book.

11 thoughts on “Review: Arnaldur Indridason – Black Skies

  1. Margot Kinberg

    Sarah – Thanks for an excellent review. It is so good to hear that Black Skies has lived up to the good reputation this series has (at least with me). It is a risk when the author lets a character who’s not usually in the lead role take over. It’s good to hear that it was successful in this case.


  2. Yes, indeed, superb review, Sarah. I too really liked the way he portrayed S.O. in ways that were novel to those who knew him as a minor character in previous books, yet would not have mattered if you didn’t know them and were coming fresh to the author in this book. I really enjoyed the book and already can’t wait for the next one…unless things are as ominous for Erlunder as has been hinted here and in Outrage.


  3. kathy d.

    Indridason is a favorite author of mine. Hypothermia is in my top mystery reads of all time, with Outrage pretty close to that. Whenever I read a rave review of one of his books, my credit card takes a hit.
    I just can’t wait for the library over here to stock the new book.
    Now I’m even more worried about Erlendur. I thought he’d resolve his past trauma by now, but now I’m even more concerned at what events could be unfolding to keep him in the wilds of Iceland.


    1. It would be nice to see Erlundur back Kathy. According to Maxine at Petrona Outrage takes place at the same times as this book so let’s hope the period of absence isn’t too long. It would be nice if he gets some answers to his questions.


  4. kathy d.

    Luckily, there seem to be at least two more books in Indridason’s Erlendur series — after Black Skies. So says Wikipedia, not always a trustworthy source, but on this I’d take heed. So, unless there are more non-Erlendur-based books, I’d assume the ruminating detective will be back from his excursions into Iceland’s wilderness.


  5. Pingback: Review: Black Skies by Arnaldur Indriðason | The Game's Afoot

  6. Pingback: The Best of June’s Reading « crimepieces

  7. I was suprised early on in your post about Sigurdur being constantly referred with no mention of Erlundur. Though it’s a slight put off that Erlundur is not the central character here, good to know that Sigurdur is a capable enough replacement. ‘Indridason’ to me is pretty much among the best crime writers today, a worthy descendant in the Henning Mankell, Rankin lineage.


    1. I completely agree with your analysis of Indridason. Each book of his is of a consistently good quality. I am looking forward to the return of Erlundur though. They can’t translate the books quick enough for me.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. You have a very interesting blog yourself which I have added to my feed.


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