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Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Shadow District by Arnaldur Indridason

Translated by Victoria Cribb

Minotaur Books, 352 pages, $25.99 

Arnaldur Indridason is known for his outstanding series starring Inspector Erlendur, set in Iceland. “The Shadow District” is the start of a new series.

A 90-year-old man, Stefán Thórdarson, has been smothered in his bed. Newspaper clippings of a 1944 crime are found in his apartment. The crime involves the murder of a young woman whose body was left behind the National Theatre in Reykjavik.

In alternating storylines, Indridason tells the current story from the viewpoint of Konrád, a retired CID detective who has been asked by an old colleague to followup on Stefán’s murder. In the 1944 story, the crime is investigated by CID detective Flóvent and Thorson, a Canadian working with the American military police.

Why is Thorson involved? The Americans had a large presence in Iceland, used as a staging and disbursement point during World War II. Initially, it was not inconceivable that the woman’s death might have an American element to it, especially after it was determined that she had had a recent abortion. Flóvent determines the young man who first discovered the body, and then ran, was a G.I. He had been making out with his Icelandic girlfriend when they stumbled across the body. (“The Situation” is how Icelanders referred to the mounting problems of American G.I.s’ sometimes predatory involvement with Icelandic girls and women.) Thorson is able to be an effective partner because his parents were immigrants to Manitoba from Iceland, and he fits right into the investigation. The partners share similar dogged attributes and attention to detail.

Flóvent and Thorson do the time-consuming work of tracking down the G.I. and his girlfriend. Once the identity of the victim is discovered, they do the work of tracking down her acquaintances and history. Later, they discover a bizarre connection to huldufólk, Icelandic elves, which leads them to a crime a few years past in another part of Iceland. Coincidence? As one of the characters says, there are no coincidences, so they begin tracking down details of that crime in which a young woman, who claimed to have been raped by huldufólk, disappeared.

The current case revisits the old crimes, as Konrád tracks down the remaining witnesses or their descendants and tries to piece together the 1944 case, a task which proves daunting since the original file is missing from the police records. To his credit, Konrád is able to make progress.

What I like about Indridason’s characters, stars and bit players alike, is they are very realistic. They have foibles and nuances. The main characters, Konrád, Thorson, and Flóvent have sound moral cores. You can envision real people reacting as Indridason’s characters do. That adds to the poignancy of the crimes and their effect on the survivors.

I assume Konrád will be the star of the new series. He’s got the police techniques, the intelligence to be a good detective, and an interesting life story that includes a con man father who used to hold séances and abuse his wife.

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