The Shadow Killer by Arnaldur Indridason – Review
By Karl Hornsey
Iceland may have become synonymous in recent years with volcanic eruptions and the remarkable rise of its fan-friendly national football team, but there is one thing the country has been known for going back many years. And that is its place in the Nordic Noir canon.
The country is ideal for a gloomy, atmospheric murder mystery, utilising its wonderful and distinct geography and climate to give authors a ready-made setting in which to set out their deeds. In an increasingly strong field, Arnaldur Indridason stands out as the king of Icelandic crime fiction.
He first came to global attention with his series of novels featuring the dour Detective Erlendur, including the most well-known, Jar City. I’ve devoured every one of the Erlendur books, and so was delighted to hear that Indridason has moved onto another series, this one set during the Second World War, when Iceland became a strategically important country. So strategically important in fact, that the British illegally invaded the neutral Iceland to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Axis powers, with the Americans pitching up a year later to continue this effective annexation.
“Evokes time and the place beautifully”
All of which rather neatly provides the backdrop to The Shadow Killer, the second in the Rejkjavik Wartime Mystery series following The Shadow District, although there is no need to have read the first to enjoy the latter.
The central protagonists are Flovent, Rejkjavik’s only detective, and young military policeman Thorson, who is thrown in at the deep end to solve the murder of a travelling salesman. Indridason evokes the time and the place beautifully, taking the reader back to a period of huge suspicion, as the native Icelanders saw their country effectively taken over, and ended up trusting nobody, friend nor foe.
Various strands are woven together and much territory covered before the case is solved, but without any unnecessary or convoluted threads being added. There is a danger of depicting Iceland as a backward country with police officers well out of the depth in a case involving potential international espionage, but Indridason manages to avoid such a portrayal, having clearly researched the time in great depth, to conjure up an accurate picture of life in such uncertain times.
“Cast of deceitful characters”
Without dreaming of giving the ending away, there are of course plenty of twists and turns along the way, but the reader has the sense of being in the know just as much as the investigators, who are frustrated at every turn by a cast of deceitful characters that try to thwart proceedings as much as possible.
While I wouldn’t yet hold The Shadow Killer in the same high regard as I do the Erlendur series, this is still a novel well above the norm and holds plenty of interest for the rest of the wartime series. The author can do no wrong to his army of fans around the world and seems to be more famous then ever, even to the point of only needing his surname now on the front of his books. I, for one, eagerly await the next instalment.
‘The Shadow Killer’ by Arnaldur Indridaon is published by Harvill Secker, £14.99 hardback