Lead Review (Reykjavik)

  • Book: Reykjavík
  • Location: Reykjavik, Videy Island
  • Author: Katrín Jakobsdottír, Ragnar Jonasson

Review Author: tripfiction

Location

Content

What have the best-selling author, Ragnar Jónasson, and the Prime Minister of Iceland, Katrín Jakobsdottír, got in common? Apart from the fact that they were both youngsters growing up in Iceland in the 1980s, and both have a background in journalism, they also love crime fiction. They are also the talented co-authors of Reykjavík – the latest exciting addition to the Icelandic Noir genre. I was fortunate to attend the Cheltenham Literature Festival where Ragnar gave the audience some fascinating insights into this engrossing book.

Reykjavík is set in the city of the same name in the late 1980s and tells the story of Valur, a young journalist. He sets out to solve the mystery of the disappearance of a teenager thirty years earlier. Fifteen-year-old Lara Marteinsdottír had been working as a housemaid for the only residents of the isolated isle of Videy in 1956. One day she abruptly quit her job and was never seen again. The case baffled the police at the time and has haunted not only its investigating officer, but also the nation as a whole. As each decade passed, the community examined its collective conscience, but no progress was made. In 1986, Valur had no reason to suppose that he would solve the case, but he was convinced that someone must know what happened. The trail leads to some of Reykavík’s key movers and shakers and Valur’s isn’t afraid to ask the important questions, regardless of the status of the people he is interviewing. Was there a murder? Or a tragic accident? Would the truth come out at last?

Reykjavík is set at time of great change in Iceland. In 1986 there were celebrations for the nation’s 200th anniversary, and the city hosted the Gorbachev-Reagan summit that contributed to the end of the Cold War. The influence of the outside world was increasingly marked at this time and the world’s most northerly capital city was becoming less isolated. The capital city’s infrastructure was developing at pace, with new concrete buildings springing up everywhere. There were changes to internal politics and signs of the financial turmoil were that would transform Iceland’s fortunes. All these factors are key to the plot, though they are set against the timeless scenery and the cultural activities that make Iceland unique. I was lucky enough to visit Iceland in 1989, and much of what I read is familiar from that trip.

The book is a marvellous example of the crime/mystery genre and thoroughly absorbing. It is a slow burn at first, with the emphasis on developing the characters and building a picture of this unique place. Essentially, the small population was governed by an even smaller ruling group and many people knew each other. Just as you’re getting comfortable with the direction of the book, there is one of the best-executed twists I’ve come across for a long while and the pace and energy are ramped right up. Cancel your plans – you won’t want to stop reading until the very last page. I’m awarding bonus points to the publisher for including pronunciation guides and a dramatis personae to help with the authentic Icelandic reading experience. This book is one to treasure.

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