Reykjavik Nights

by Arnaldur Indridason

Two deaths, apparently unconnected. Both took place at least a year ago. A married woman disappears after a night out with colleagues. A homeless man is found drowned in a muddy pool. The tramp is presumed to have fallen into the pool, drunk, and his death is not further investigated. The woman may have committed suicide, but her body has never been found and the case remains open.

Erlendur is a junior police officer working nights on traffic patrol.  He has met the homeless man on a couple of occasions before his death, and something prompts him to look more closely into the case, despite the fact that he does not work in CID.  He carries on a personal investigation, eventually finding a link between the two cases and solving both murders.

The book is a prequel to a series featuring Erlendur as a fully-fledged detective inspector.  I have not read any other books by this author, but in this book I found his style to be accessible, the English translation particularly so, and the content was fast-paced enough to keep my interest without being unbelievable.

The setting is, probably, typical of Nordic thrillers.  In a word: bleak.  Reykjavik in the 1970s is portrayed as having serious problems with alcohol and homelessness – though maybe this reflects mainly the preoccupations of the characters, who are after all policemen.

Erlendur’s private life features very little in this book, and this is, for me, something of a loss.  He has a girlfriend whom he meets occasionally and, it seems, almost reluctantly.  At one point she announces to that she is pregnant with his child, and suggests they move in together.  This storyline is promptly dropped, as Erlendur gets on with his investigation.  Perhaps readers of the detective series know what happens next – for me, reading only this book, it was deeply unsatisfying.  It would have been better if the author had left this story out of the novel altogether.  It does nothing for the plot, nor does it illuminate Erlendur’s character (except perhaps to show him as extremely callous in regard to his personal relationships).

I won’t rush out to read more by this author, but I will keep him in mind the next time I am looking for a detective story to download.