Publication: 15th March 2018 from Harvill Secker
Reykjavík, August 1941. When a travelling salesman is found murdered in a basement flat, killed by a bullet from a Colt .45, the police initially suspect a member of the Allied occupation force.
The British are in the process of handing over to the Americans and the streets are crawling with servicemen whose relations with the local women are a major cause for concern.
Flóvent, Reykjavík’s sole detective, is joined by the young military policeman Thorson. Their investigation focuses on a family of German residents, the retired doctor Rudolf Lunden and his estranged son Felix, who is on the run, suspected of being a spy.
Flóvent and Thorson race to solve the case and to stay ahead of US counter-intelligence, amid rumours of a possible visit by Churchill. As evidence emerges of dubious experiments carried out on Icelandic schoolboys in the 1930s,Thorson becomes increasingly suspicious of the role played by the murdered man’s former girlfriend, Vera, and her British soldier lover.
The Shadow Killer is the second book in the Reykjavik Wartime Mystery Series. I don’t generally go for books set during the 2nd World War, but I was fascinated by this series because it offers a great deal of fascinating information about Iceland during that time, when it was a focal point as the most Northern point of the allies pushback of Nazi Germany.
Iceland had been helped by the Americans during a period of harsh economic depression and at the beginning of the war had found it indebted and though Hitler’s army had been expected to invade Iceland, in fact it was the Americans and the British who took over the place as friendly troops, bringing with them all the problems that billeted troops in a town are known to cause, wherever they hail from.
It is the summer of 1941, just before Churchill’s visit to Iceland, and a travelling salesman is found dead in a basement flat, shot execution style by a Colt 45 – the gun used by American troops.
Konrad Flóvent, the only available detective in the Icelandic crime squad is partnered with the young military policeman Thorson. He is a New Icelander, stationed in Reykjavík in the US police. Because of the gun, Flóvent fears the involvement of an American soldier and Thoven can communicate both in Icelandic and in English which is essential. Theirs is a twin track approach, often following leads of their own and reporting back to each other at the end of the day.
Two lines of enquiry open up. The first leads to a family of German residents, retired doctor Rudolf Lunden his nurse companion Brunhilde and his estranged son Felix, who is on the run, suspected of being both the murderer and a Nazi spy.
The second is a more domestic scenario. The dead man’s girlfriend, Vera, had recently run off with a British soldier and was, as the neighbour said, ‘no better than she ought to be’.
As you might expect, this story unfolds with a slow, restrained pace, concentrating on the internal politics, the thought processes and the psychology of the characters highlighting the pathos of Indridason’s narrative.
As Flovent and Thorsen pursue their enquiries they find themselves blocked at every turn by an unwillingness of witnesses to talk; there are a number of interviews where no-one will tell them anything.
Against this background of reserve, diligent police work is requires to join up all the dots and Thorsen and Flovent have to work together not just to solve this crime, but also to tap dance their way through the politics of the situation.
I liked both characters and I expect to hear more of them. Indridason has laid the groundwork for more of Thorsen, a complex young man with a strong sense of morality.
The Shadow Killer is informative, interesting and enjoyable. This is not your fast paced gripping thriller, but rather an exploration of wickedness, passion, betrayal and jealousy, set against a fascinating period in Iceland’s history.
About Arnaldur Indridason
Arnaldur Indridason is an Icelandic writer of crime fiction; most of his books feature the protagonist Detective Erlendur. Arnaldur was born in Reykjavík on 28 January 1961, the son of writer Indriði G. Þorsteinsson. He graduated with a degree in history from the University of Iceland in 1996. He worked as a journalist for the newspaper Morgunblaðið from 1981 to 1982, and later as a freelance writer. From 1986 to 2001, he was a film critic for Morgunblaðið.
Outside Iceland, he is best known for his crime novels featuring Erlendur and Sigurdur Óli, which are consistent bestsellers across Europe.
Arnaldur received the Glass Key award, a literature prize for the best Nordic crime novel, in 2002 and 2003. He won the Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger Award in 2005 for his novel Silence of the Grave. He won the world’s most lucrative crime fiction award, the RBA International Prize for Crime Writing worth €125,000, in 2013 for Shadow Alley (Skuggasund).
Arnaldur’s books have been published in 26 countries and translated into at least 24 languages.