Sunday, May 21, 2017

Reykjavik Nights by Arnaldur Indridason


Arnaldur Indridason’s Reykjavik Nights (published in the US in 2015) is billed as a prequel to the author’s popular Inspector Erlendur series.  As such, it offers fans of the series a fascinating look at a very young Erlendur just as he begins his career as a member of the Reykjavik police department. 

Although young Erlendur’s responsibilities are mostly those of a traffic cop as he works the night shift with his two partners, his curiosity about what happens on his city’s streets is already transforming him into the dogged investigator he will one day be.  Erlendur is not the kind of man who can turn his back on those whose bad habits have condemned them to a precarious life on Reykjavik’s cold streets.  Despite the resistance of many of those he tries to help, the young traffic division cop always tries to leave them in better shape the he finds them.  Erlendur sees the homeless as individuals, not simply as a long series of drunkards or mentally ill people to be dealt with on his shift and then quickly forgotten.  He remembers their faces and their names and tries to connect with them in as positive a way as the situation allows him. 

A man named Hannibal is one of the hopelessly addicted alcoholics whom Erlendur has dealt with more than once, even to letting the man shelter in a jail cell one particularly cold night when there was room to spare in the jail (something he has been known to do for others in similar circumstances and conditions).  Something about Hannibal intrigues Erlendur, something about his personality that hints how seriously the man has been damaged by something in his past.  Erlendur wonders if it is too late to save the man from himself.

Arnaldur Indridason
But that will never be, because three boys paddling their makeshift boat down one of the city’s tiny waterways soon discover Hannibal’s drowned body floating there.  For Erlendur, the worst thing about Hannibal’s sad end is that no one seems to care.  The police are quick to write his dearth off as an accidental drowning; the man’s street friends are not concerned with the details of his death; and the world will soon forget that Hannibal ever existed.  Erlendur, however is not so ready to forget Hannibal and starts asking questions, lots of them, during his off-duty hours – questions that lead to an entirely off-the-books investigation that will find Erlendur risking his own future by keeping what he learns from his superiors in the department, including the very investigators who would most profit from learning what Erlendur discovers.

Reykjavik Nights will be particularly enjoyable for readers already familiar with the Inspector Erlendur character because the author has clearly built the young traffic cop from elements of the man readers know the mature Inspector now to be.  It is all there:
·      Erlendur is not a man who enjoys drinking
·      Staying in alone to read, listen to the radio, or play his jazz records is much to Erlendur’s taste.
·      He prefers to eat plain, traditional food and saves even roast lamb for special occasions.
·      He is intrigued by books about people who have gone missing but have beaten incredible odds to find safety once again – and her reads them over and over again.
·      Not nocturnal by nature, he has nevertheless come to enjoy the relative silence and isolation of Reykjavik at night.
·      And, most importantly of all, Erlendur himself is a man severely damaged by the disappearance of his childhood brother during a blizzard whiteout.


Reykjavik Nights is far from a perfect crime novel.  It is, in fact, a rather plodding one that despite is relatively short 295 pages seems to take forever to reach its conclusion.  Still, this is definitely one that Inspector Erlendur fans need to read if they are to completely know and understand the character.

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