In the Land of Midnight Sun

Reykjavik Murder Mystery Series by Arnaldur

(my No. 1 Scandinavian crime writer)

Rob Bye panoramic

Evidently I like mysteries. The article that follows was written in back in 2008, and recently updated with Arnaldur’s books published after that. 

Before I fell in love with Arnaldur’s books, I had thought that Iceland is just a big rock somewhere in the North Atlantic. I knew about Bjork, geysers, and the capital Reykjavik, but that was pretty much it.

I didn’t know, for example, that Icelandic winters are much milder than ours here on the prairies. The warm North Atlantic Current ensures generally higher temperatures than in most places of similar latitude in the world. Reykjavik, the northernmost capital of a sovereign state, lies at 64° 08’ (Yellowknife at 62° 28’ and Whitehorse at 60° 43 are more southern then the Iceland capital) but the average January temperature is + 0.2° Celsius. In Iceland, in midwinter, during the Polar Nights, there is a period without sunlight. In midsummer, daylight takes over and there is no darkness during June and July, creating the opposite phenomenon called the Midnight Sun.

I’ve learned that the Icelandic phonebooks list the users alphabetically by first names because Icelandic family names are patronymic or matronymic. Different from the most of Western family name systems, patronymic/matronimic names reflect the immediate father or mother of the child, rather than the family ancestry. Arnaldur’s main character, Detective Inspector Erlandur, for example, is known by his first name. His last name – Sveinsson – tells us only that his father’s first name was Svein. Icelanders formally address others by their first names.

These books have also taught me that in December 1998 the Parliament of Iceland passed a bill that allowed the state to create a centralized database of all Icelanders’ genealogical, genetic and personal medical information.

There are, of course, other reasons why I’ve liked Arnaldur’s novels, the main being Detective Inspector Erlendur himself. He is not unlike Mankell’s Kurt Wallander or Rankin’s John Rebus, a solitary man prone to self-reflection, melancholy and depression. Broken marriage, complicated relationship with his children …  Lost in a blizzard together with his younger brother when they were children, he, unlike his brother, survived. The accident, however, had marked him for the rest of his life with overwhelming guilt and lifelong obsession with missing persons. Mysteriously vanished people have become a leitmotif, a recurring theme of the entire Reykjavik Murder Mystery series.

Similar to Henning Mankell’s and Stieg Larsson’s works, Arlandur’s novels have a strong social component: through his main character, he boldly addresses some serious issues such as racism, child abuse, corruption, disintegration and moral collapse of the society.

Although the series starts with Sons of Dust and Silent Kill, these two novels have not been translated for the North American market. The English translations started with Jar City (2005).

The reading sequence, available in English, continues with Silence of the Grave (2005) and is followed by Voices (2006). Since then he has published several more novels featuring Detective Inspector Erlendur: The Draining Lake, Arctic Chill, Hypothermia, Outrage and Black Skies. The final novel in the series is Strange Shores.

Arnaldur was born in 1961 in Reykjavik. He has a degree in history from the University of Iceland. He worked as a journalist and movie critic. His books have been published in 26 countries and translated into more than a dozen languages. Among other awards, he won the prestigious Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger Award in 2005 for Silence of the Grave.

Image courtesy of Rob Bye&Unsplash


About jfkaufmann

Not unlike my characters, I lead a double life: by day I'm a mother, a friend, a colleague, and the queen of my kitchen. When the moon rises, however, I shift into my other self and, as Queen of the Night, I reign the magical world of my imagination.
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