Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Review of Reykjavik Nights by Arnaldur Indridason (Harvill Secker, 2014)

A relatively new recruit to the Icelandic police force, Erlendur works nights as a traffic cop dealing with drunk drivers and accidents, domestic disputes and street fights, robberies and whatever else comes his way.  One evening he pulls a dead homeless person from a shallow pool.  The case is ruled suicide and soon forgotten by all but the stoic cop who isn’t convinced by the verdict and becomes obsessed with uncovering the man’s life and death.  Aware that a local woman disappeared on the same weekend, Erlendur becomes convinced that there might be a link between the two cases.  In his spare time he slowly pieces together the lives of the homeless man and missing woman.  However, rather than telling his bosses of his discoveries he keeps his investigation a secret, reluctant to lose control of his quest and to unnecessarily smear the memories of his two victims.

Reykjavik Nights is a prequel to the popular Inspector Erlendur stories, set not long after he starts to work for the police.  Already obsessed with missing persons or the lives of those that drop out of ordinary society, he is drawn to the cases of a homeless man found drown and a local woman who has vanished.  Despite having no mandate to investigate either case, Erlendur patiently seeks answers.  Given his lack of experience he is somewhat naïve and hesitant, feeling his way by instinct.  As with the other books in the series, Reykjavik Nights is as much about Erlendur and Icelandic society as it is the cases.  Indeed, the cases are quite mundane and straightforward but what makes them interesting is Erlendur’s attempt to tackle them.  Oddly, that in itself is quite mundane with few tension points, but Indridason somehow makes its engaging.  I think this is do with an evenly paced plot and the cadence of the prose – one is soon caught in a steady moving stream with pleasant scenery, with a few eddies but no rapids or waterfalls.  The result is an enjoyable police procedural with an inevitable but satisfying conclusion.

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