The Shadow District by Arnaldur Indriðason

35011768Fiction — Kindle edition. Translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb. Minotaur Books, 2017. Originally published 2013. 304 pgs. Library copy.

During the 1940s, when Reykjavik served as a staging ground for the American military invasion of Europe, a young woman is founded murdered behind the National Theater. The area around the theater is known as the “Shadow District”, and the devious behavior conducted there often occurs without punishment. But this murder — and the American serviceman seen fleeing from the scene of the crime — catches the attention of an Icelandic detective, Flóvent, and an Icelandic-Canadian attache to the American military police named Thorson.

Seventy years later, a 90-year-old man is discovered dead by his neighbors. Although the police originally believe he died of natural causes, the autopsy reveals that he was smothered with his own pillow. Konrad, a retired detective, is called on to assist with the crime and, despite his early resistance, Konrad is intrigued by the crime after finding newspaper clippings reporting on the death of a young woman in the Shadow District amid the man’s possessions. It doesn’t take long for Konrad to realize the dead man is one of the original investigators on the case.

This book is the start of Indriðason’s latest series, Reykjavik Wartime Mystery, and shares similar themes as Into Oblivion, which focused on the displeasure of the Icelandic people towards the American military base on their island. In this novel, this displeasure is targeted towards young, Icelandic women who have started dating the American and British military servicemen.

Icelanders are up in arms over the so-called “Situation”, calling on the military to be banned from interacting with the locals and on Icelandic women not to step out with these men (and labeling them with less than kind monikers). So when Rosemunda is found murdered, people assume this is the obvious outcome from the Situation.

The detectives assigned to the case, though, aren’t so sure, and their investigation leads them to a bizarre connection between Roesmunda and another woman who disappeared from the north several months before. Both women claimed to have been raped by huldufólk, the “hidden people” who feature heavily in Icelandic folk lore.

The novel jumps between past and present with Konrad following the investigative efforts of Flóvent and Thorson. This jump was jarring at the beginning of the novel, but Indriðason smooths out the transitions by the midpoint and it comes together seamlessly at the end.

In fact, this is the first novel by Indriðason I read this year that felt on par with his earlier works. Each narrative was well-paced; I never wanted to sacrifice time with the past investigation for the sake of moving the present investigation forward faster. While the outcome of the whodunit was obvious, the path to get there was comprised of several twists and turns and I enjoyed the path to get there.

Based on the blurb on GoodReads, the next novel appears to follow Flóvent and Thorson through a more straightforward timeline. I’ve already added myself to the hold list for this one at the library, but I do hope Konrad makes an appearance. I liked him as a character as much as I did Thorson (and maybe more than Flóvent).

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