Fiction – paperback; Harvill Secker; 352 pages; 2008. Translated from the Icelandic by Bernard Scudder and Victoria Cribb.
This is the fifth book in Arnaldur Indriðason‘s police procedural series set in Reykjavík that has been translated into English. As usual it stars the morose detective Erlendur and his colleagues, Sigurdur Oli and Elinborg, and revolves around two separate investigations — the murder of a young Thai boy and the disappearance of a married woman.
The first (and main) storyline poses a shocking question up front: was the murder of Elias, the schoolboy, found dead from a knife wound, racially motivated? As the police officers make their inquiries they uncover racial tensions within the local school community — one teacher holds strong views about immigration, for instance, and immigrant pupils are rumoured to be ostracized and bullied by their Icelandic counterparts — which belies Iceland as a cosy, welcoming and liberal nation.
But there are other possibilities too: a suspected paedophile has been spotted in the area and may be responsible. Or was it Elias’ older brother, Niran, who has gone into hiding? And what about Elias’ mother, a Thai divorcee, who is rumoured to have a secret lover — could he be the murderer?
I’m obviously not going to give the plot away, suffice to say that over the course of some 350 pages Erlundur and his cohorts dig around every conceivable lead, uncovering the odd red herring or two, which makes for an exciting read.
The second narrative thread, in which a husband reports his second wife’s disappearance, takes a back seat to the murder investigation, but it adds an additional layer of interest and ratchets up the excitement level by a notch or two.
Despite the cracking storylines, I found this book slightly wearisome. I’m beginning to think I may have just read one too many in this series, because the back story associated with Erlundur’s troubled past — the death of his younger brother when he was a child, his marriage split, his daughter’s drug addiction — was so familiar to me. Of course, Indriðason has to work these references in for the benefit of first-time readers, so he’s forgiven, but it does wear thin if you’ve read the four preceding novels, even with the slight character development that’s apparent.
Still, if you’re looking for a crime novel that’s easy to read, entertaining and has a social conscience, this will tick all the required boxes.