Review: Arnaldur Indridason – Reykjavik Nights

TIndridasonhe story of Reykjavik detective Erlendur seemingly came to a conclusion in Strange Shores, published in the UK in 2013. As I mentioned in my review at the time, there was a prequel to the series that was in the process of being translated. Finally we have Reykjavik Nights which gives us a slice of 1970s Iceland and a glimpse into the formative years of Erlendur as a policeman.

A vagrant’s body has been fished out of a pond near a housing development in Reykjavik. Police dismiss the case as either suicide or a drunken accident. However the fate of the dead man, Hannibal, touches the conscience of young traffic cop, Erlendur. He gets in touch with the family of Hannibal and discovers a tragedy that occurred years earlier that led to his spiral into destitution. Reykjavik police are focusing their energies on the hunt for a missing woman who disappeared after a night out with colleagues. The discovery of an earring, by Erlendur, in Hannibal’s squat links the two cases and the policeman embarks on a secret investigation of his own.

The success of Indridason’s Reykjavik series has been propelled largely by the character of Erlendur. Traumatised by the disappearance of his brother in a snow storm years earlier, he matches what we expect from a detective and yet has a distinctive back story that could really only be Icelandic. Indridason has published novels without Erlendur but it’s those containing his enigmatic detective that we really want to read. Writing a prequel has given the author the chance to show how factors other than Erlendur’s brother’s disappearance influenced the detective he became. Later in the novel we meet Marion Briem, Erlendur’s mentor, whose gender is never revealed. Indridason is very good at restraining himself when portraying the detective’s childhood trauma. Although impelling him to investigate a dormant case, the connections are subtly made. It is the mark of a very good writer.

In terms of plot, the story is slighter than some of Indridason’s other books although he is never a writer to focus on a multitude  of narratives. Instead, the depth of characterisation and sense of place are the reasons we return to Indridason time and time again. Fans of this author, who critic Barry Forshaw calls the king of Icelandic crime fiction, will love this book, I’m sure. I did.

Thanks to Karen from Eurocrime for giving me her copy of the book. The translation was by Victoria Cribb.

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17 thoughts on “Review: Arnaldur Indridason – Reykjavik Nights

  1. I guess I could research this question but do you know when this title was originally published? Is this a new work and not a reprint? Is the author now setting the series in a earlier time period? Or is this series finished?

    • Well, I went back to read your review so the first two questions are already answered. Curious to know if the author will write more in this series. I love Erlendur and don’t want to read any books without him in it.

  2. As best I can tell, there are two titles before Jar City/Tainted Blood (not counting the prequel). My wife, who has read them in German, says they are among the best. But then she would wouldn’t she?

    • He’s a real favourite amongst crime fiction aficionados, Sergio. Definitely recommended and, unusually for me, I’d recommend reading them in order (with the exception of the prequels).

      • I think I read the first two – but after SILENCE OF THE GRAVE I paused because I wasn’t sure of the translation order was in fact the same as the order in which they originally appeared – have they all been translated into English? I originally thought JAR CITY was the first but it turned out to actually be the third …

        • I don’t think the two books before Jar City have been translated yet. The prequels were written most recently, I believe, as the series comes to an end with Strange Shores. The order of translation is approximately the same as the order of writing. But, as you say, starts with Jar City. Translated fiction always has a complicated running order!

  3. I have said before that I am stalled in my Scandinavian reading. Can’t read everything, much as I would like to. But with so much praise, I clearly need to make this series a priority.

  4. I am a huge fan of Arnaldur Indridason, but in small doses, which pretty much explains why I have only read two of his books. I think he is the darkets, roughest and most complex of the “Northern” writers. He is not well-known in Spain even though his books are translated into Spanish. My mom gave me “The Woman in the Green Dress (Is this the title in English?) when I went to Dublin on holidays and I spent the week quite shocked and haunted by the crime.

  5. Pingback: Review: Reykjavik Nights by Arnaldur Indriðason | The Game's Afoot

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