Two Icelandic Thrillers
By Ragnar Jónasson
Translated by Quentin Bates
New York: Minotaur Books 2017
Yet another Icelandic mystery series! I went into this one blind—I found it at the library under the catalog heading “Icelandic.” I ordered it with some other titles and when I got it I plowed through it in a day—a breezy read—it would be a perfect airport book. It is set during the Kreppa of 2008-2009 but almost all of the action takes place in Siglufjörður, a small town on the northern coast of Iceland. Ari Thór Arason, a rookie police officer, gets his first taste of solving crime in a close-knit community with its share of secrets. Almost every character gets a complete back-story. This made for a complicated story, almost fiddly at times, but it is all resolved at the end, although the author couldn't finish without a couple of “cheats.”
When I read the authors bio I wasn’t surprised to learn that the author had translated fourteen Agatha Christie novels into Icelandic! If you are a fan of Agatha, you might get a kick out of this. If you aren’t, this might be a little stodgy; it really is old-fashioned. The writing, while competent, is stiff. The translator is an English writer of Icelandic mysteries as well; the work I've read of his wasn’t exactly great literature either.
By Yrsa Sigurðardóttir
Translated by Victoria Cribb
New York: Minotaur Books 2015
I've reviewed Yrsa before, those books had the lawyer/investigator Þóra Guðmundsdóttir as the protagonist. This book is a stand-alone, the plot is driven by the actions of one Oðin Hafsteinsson, a mid-level bureaucrat at the Icelandic State Supervisory Agency. He had recently started this new job as a way to deal with the death of his ex-wife; he has assumed custody of his 11 year old daughter and needs a more regular schedule. His work is boring until the death of a co-worker thrusts him into case concerning the activities of a group home/reform school that had closed forty years earlier.
As “thrillers” go, this one is pretty tepid, and it takes its own sweet time to develop as the story shifts between the past and present. While it is set in Iceland, at first there is little other than the character names to give it a Nordic atmosphere. Toward the end of the book, however, it does reveal a certain “Icelandic-ness” as it picks up speed and expertly comes to its disturbing conclusion. This is the best book of Yrsa’s that I’ve read but, as I mentioned, you have to make a real effort to stick with it to the end. The translation is pretty British, almost to the point of being a distraction at times, but serviceable.