Friday, October 7, 2016

Review of Oblivion by Arnaldur Indridason (Vintage, 2014)

1979, Erlendur is a rookie detective with the Reykjavik police.  When a body is found in an isolated thermal pond not far from an American military base, Erlendur and his boss, Marion Briem investigate. The body has been dropped from a great height onto a hard floor and once they discover the man worked as an aircraft mechanic their attention quickly turns to the base and its massive aircraft hangars.  However, the base is US territory and they have no interest in collaborating with the Icelandic police, leaving the detectives frustrated and trying to find alternative sources of information.  In parallel, Erlendur decides to pursue a cold case that has obsessed him for some time – the death of a young woman near to an old US base from the Second World War that was occupied by Icelandic families when it was abandoned.  It doesn’t take him long to find a couple of threads that were poorly investigated at the time of her disappearance. 

Oblivion is the second prequel novel to the original Erlendur series.  In this outing, it’s 1979, Erlendur has separated from his wife, is estranged from his five year old daughter, and is now working as a detective in CID under the supervision of Marion Briem, his long-term mentor.  Erlendur is investigating two cases that have links to American bases in Iceland.  The first concerns an Icelandic man they suspect has been murdered on the present base, though the US military refuse to cooperate.  The second is a cold case concerning the disappearance of a young woman twenty five years ago who was receiving records bought on a US army base and lived near to a decommissioned one.  Indridason spins out the two stories with his usual unhurried, thoughtful, often dour, prose that matches the disposition of his main character.  Both plotlines are reasonably interesting, with Indridason sticking with their more mundane, familial aspects rather than shifting gears into thriller territory, though the more contemporary thread raises questions about the presence of the US military in Iceland and the troubled relationship between locals and interlopers.  It was a shame that both plotlines relied on weak plot devices to move them forward.  Nonetheless, Oblivion is another nice addition to the Erlendur series.

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