The 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.