Icelandic crime fiction writers

Iceland - geysir

Iceland, the magical island with geysers, glaziers, ponies, fisheries and economic collapse, has a population of only 300.000, a literacy rate of above 99%, and publishes and reads the most books per capita in the world. The literary traditions are very long. And Iceland also, of course, has several excellent writers both of fiction and of crime fiction.

The internationally most well known crime fiction writer is Arnaldur Indridason, a recipient of numerous international prizes. Yrsa Sigurðardóttir and Viktor Arnar Ingolfsson have recently also been translated into English.

Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson has been nominated for the Glass Key Award and tranlated to German (read more about him), and will be available in English in 2012. Ævar Örn Josepsson also writes excellent crime books, but he has so far not (to my knowledge) been translated to English. Ólafur Haukur Símonarson has also written some crime fiction, as has Árni Þórarinsson, Stella Blómkvist (a pseudonym for an unknown author), Gunnar Gunnarson, Birgitta H. Halldórsdóttir, Helgi Ingólfsson, Ragnar Jónasson, Óttar Martin Norðfjörð, Stefán Máni, Lilja Sigurðardóttir, Jón Hallur Stefánsson, Óskar Hrafn Þorvaldsson, and Þórunn Valdimarsdóttir.

Apart from these, I do not know of any other Icelandic crime writers (please email me if I am wrong). See also literature.is, a great site for Icelandic fiction and crime fiction.


The Draining Lake, by Arnaldur Indridason

The Draining Lake moves back and forth in time and place, and takes place partly in Iceland today, partly in East Germany during the 1960's.

The Draining Lake, by Arnaldur IndridasonIn the city of Leipzig in East Germany in the 60's, a group of young, radical Icelanders have gone to study at the University . We follow some of them, in particular a young man named Tomas. They expected to meet a communist paradise, but encounter instead a society where the secret police, Stasi, is present everywhere, where people are scared, and everybody spies on everybody else. Tomas meets repression, but also his first love.

In Iceland, 40 years later, a lake is draining out and a skeleton becomes visible. The scull has a hole and has been tied to a radio transmitter, as it turns out - a Russian short wave transmitter. Detective Erlendur Sveinsson and his colleagues are summoned to investigate. This is the focal point of The Draining Lake.

There is hardly any evidence to go by. Who is the man? How did he end up in the lake? Erlendur, who know nothing about the students in Leipzig, works from the assumption that the man has been reported missing. For personal reasons, Erlendur is obsessed with disappearances and missing persons. This obsession comes in handy in this case, where persistence and intuition are the only real assets for the police.

The Draining Lake is a wonderful police procedural. Arnaldur Indridason's descriptions of the tedious work of the police, the characters in the book, and - in particular - of the somewhat mellow and slightly depressed Erlendur, are masterful. It is an intelligent, very written crime book, written by one of the very best of Scandinavian crime authors. I do not hesitate to recommend it!



Last Rituals, by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

A young man, a German student of medival history, is found brutally murdered, with his eyes gouged out. And, there is a strange, Last Rituals, by Yrsa Sigurdardottirancient-looking sign carved on his body. The young man came from a wealthy German family. They do not share the police's conclusion that his drug dealer murdered him.

The family hires attorney Thora Gudmundsdottir to find out the truth together with ex-policeman Matthew Reich. And tempted by the money offered, Thóra takes on the investigation. Business is bad, her car needs repairs and she needs money.

Last Rituals is Yrsa Sigurdardottir's debut as a crime writer. And it is an extremely promising debut. Her Thora is a very likeable heroine. She is an attorney small firm, divorces with two kids and all the usual problems of single mothers, and feels and acts in a way that makes her feel real. Thora has great intuition and is stubborn. She has an uncanny ability to plow through the mis-information thrown at her by the murdered student’s friends and tutors.

Thora and Martin's investigations in Last Rituals take them deep into a strange world of torture, witchcraft, unusual sex (including erotic asphyxiation), as well as the inner life of academia. The dead student, Harald, was into body-modification, and his topic of research is witch hunts, and as the research seems somehow linked to his death, this is the path the investigation must also take.

Last Rituals is a book that will keep you guessing to the very end. It is entertaining, exciting, and very readable. It has strong main characters and lots of fascinating historical and cultural storytelling. We will be looking forward to the next book by Yrsa Sigurdardottir!


The 10 most recent books reviewed on Scandinavian Books:

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Operation Napoleon, by Arnaldur Indridason

The Caller, by Karin Fossum

The Howling Miller, by Arto Paasilinna

The Dwarf, by Pär Lagerkvist

The Ice Palace, by Tarjei Vesaas

The Summer Without Men, by Siri Hustvedt

Doctor Glas, by Hjalmar Soderberg

The Quarry, by Johan Theorin

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