Written by Arnaldur Indridason — Following the teasing, ambiguous and melancholy end to Strange Shores – which is said to be the final novel in the Erlendur series – Reykjavik Nights doesn’t tell us what happened to our hero. Instead, it’s a prequel to the existing series of Erlendur books which are all detailed here. First published in Iceland in 2012 Reykjavik Nights is actually the second ‘young Erlendur’ book, but is the first to appear in English. It seems the done thing to publish Nordic Noir novels in the wrong order, and that trend continues here…
We find Erlendur as a young officer working in traffic where his nights are full of car crashes, robberies, drunks and fights. Hannibal is a homeless man Erlendur knows, but he’s been found drowned. Meanwhile a young woman named Oddny has vanished on her way home from a club. Few seem to care and both these cases quickly go cold – just two lost people from starkly contrasting worlds.
Erlendur, however, has an affinity to those mysteriously lost because his younger brother disappeared in a snowstorm when they were children. Drawn to these two cases and with a natural flair for detective work he begins to dig deeper, working under the detective division’s radar. His quest takes him into the lower echelons of Icelandic society, among the homeless and the lost, and he sees how those unrelated by background or position can fall prey to violence.
Reykjavik Nights proves to be a multi-faceted thriller. Having developed Erlendur throughout the main series, Indridason carefully re-constructs a young version of him for us. Here he is only beginning to display the qualities that we love about the older version. In novels like Jar City, Erlendur is gloomy, anti-social and obsessive, but also self-contained, pragmatic and thorough. From Erlendur’s need to find out what happened to Hannibal and Oddny through to his relationship with his girlfriend Halldora, who later becomes his wife, we can see the seeds of his later life. His fear of commitment to Halldora is especially in evidence, until fate forces his hand. He is a solitary creature by nature, adopting the role of flaneur, walking and observing the people and places around him. Erlendur has little patience for ‘relentlessly hearty people’ as ‘such forced jollity could quickly become oppressive’. He has the succour of his music, his books, and his new career where he can exploit his natural curiosity and soothe his troubled spirit by seeking justice for the lost.
With the plot centred on the death of alcoholic loner Hannibal, Indridason takes the opportunity to immerse us into the hidden side of Reykjavik with its petty jealousies, violence, addiction and hopelessness. The feisty Thuri, Hannibal’s lover, is the greatest asset to Erlendur’s investigation, despite her own personal battle with addiction. Erlendur doubts Hannibal’s death was suicide and finds out about a previous attempt on Hannibal’s life by the neighbours to his squat, who have their own dirty dealings to conceal. And, what might Hannibal have seen when the young woman disappeared? As these plots interweave we don’t only experience an intriguing detective story, but Indridason delves into the social afflictions of Icelandic society – homelessness, addiction, domestic violence.
You will definitely enjoy this excursion back in time to the roots of Indridason’s famous character. With a thought-provoking plot, an empathetic and exacting main character, and an exploration of Iceland’s social ills, Scandinavian crime fiction fans old and new will be delighted by this intriguing prequel.
CFL Rating 5 Stars