The Shadow Killer

Written by Arnaldur Indridason Victoria Cribb (trans.)
Review by Katharine Quarmby

This is the sequel to last year’s The Shadow District, with both books set in Reykjavík, Iceland, during the Second World War. Indridason brings together a transnational duo – the city’s only detective, the humane Flóvent, and Thorson, an empathetic Canadian military policeman with Icelandic heritage, who is exploring his own sexual identity. Their lack of experience in investigating murders shifts the reader’s position into one of co-investigator, in a quest for justice. The case turns on the death of a salesman, executed with a Colt .45, with a swastika painted on his forehead. A hunt for his missing colleague, Felix Lunden, who is revealed to have been a schoolmate of the victim and the son of a local Nazi sympathiser and eugenicist, Rudolph, ensues. The search soon focuses around the family, which has been involved in eugenics research on local children.

It is an unusual setting and one that Indridason paints beautifully – an island in a state of disturbance and flux, as Americans replace British forces. The island’s strategic significance at the time is not only a backdrop – it informs the plot. The troops vie with each other for women on the island and are resented by local men, as traditional interdependent human relationships are tainted by transactions due to the desperate need to survive. Indridason has chosen fertile ground in which to explore themes of cruelty, eugenics and occupation. The period detail is immersive, with the visit to the Icelandic countryside to uncover the life of one suspect, Vera, particularly well observed. Norse thrillers are much translated now, a boon for English speaking readers, with many expertly demonstrating how political shifts create turmoil in intimate lives. This absorbing tale is beautifully written, my only caveat being that the plot slightly drags in the middle section.