The Shadow District

Written by Arnaldur Indridason Victoria Cribb (trans.)
Review by Valerie Adolph

Retired detective Konrád is contacted by his former partner in the Reykjavik CID about the death of 90-year old Stefán Thordarson, also known as Stefan Thorson. They find that what had appeared to be an old man dying in his sleep is actually murder. Konrád puts retirement aside to investigate. He finds that Thorson was born in Canada of Icelandic parents and had been in Reykjavik during the Second World War working with the American military police in tandem with Icelandic policeman Flovert. They are investigating an American soldier and his girlfriend who have come across a woman’s body outside the back door of the National Theatre. Some people believe the woman had been attacked and raped by a man of the ‘huldufolk’—the hidden creatures of legend. Soon Thorson and Flovert discover that another girl has been similarly attacked, also by the huldufolk, in the north of the country. Tension mounts as Thorson and Flovert investigate from Reykjavik’s shadow district of ill-repute to the wild north of the country, making an error that will cost a life and haunt them forever but yet lead to the truth.

The story travels in time, switching back and forth between the initial investigations of Thorson and Flovert to the investigations of the elderly Thorson ending with his murder, to the most recent investigations of Konrád. Throughout we learn much about the Icelandic culture during the years of its significant change, from the arrival of Allied troops in WW2 to the present.

The strength of this book lies in its powerful storytelling and in its array of unusual and very vivid characters. The writer lays before us Iceland, its people, their legends and beliefs and the ways they have changed. The time switches throughout the tale highlight the depth of these changes.