The Shadow District

Written by Arnaldur Indridason

Review written by Bob Cartwright

The Shadow District
Harvill Secker
RRP: £12.99
Released: May 18 2017

Either Indridason is mellowing or my body temperature is no longer subject to wide variations. There was a time (with his earlier work) that the reading would require notching the central heating a bit. That is not to demean the author’s thirteenth book, merely an indication that this first in a new series doesn’t quite inflict the chill of those earlier ventures into Icelandic climes.

The title takes its name from a rundown part of Reykjavik in the 1940s when the country was a landing stage for American and British troops in the run up to the D-Day landings. It was also the part of town where the Icelandic girls tended to meet up with the British Tommies and then Uncle Sam’s GIs; contributing to what in the contemporary Icelandic parlance became known as the “Situation”. Thus, when the body of a young local girl is found in the shell of construction of the national theatre - attention is immediately focused on the GI population.

But this is a book spread over several time zones. The investigation of the murder falls to a joint operation of Reykjavik’s fledgling Criminal Investigation Department led by Flovent and the US Military Police Corps in the form of Thorson. Seventy years on, the police are called out to check on a pensioner living alone who hasn’t been seen for a few days. Inside the flat the pensioner is found dead. Initially, natural causes are suspected though that soon becomes replaced by a suspicion the pensioner has been smothered with a pillow. As the city’s small detective force is already fully deployed; Konrad a recently retired member is asked to assist the investigation. It soon becomes evident that the dead pensioner, Stefan Thordarson has linkages to the murder investigation that Thorson and Florent conducted in the 1940s. Between these two time zones there is a third represented by the years when Thorson returned to Iceland after the Second World War, nagged by dissatisfaction at how his earlier investigation had turned out. By that time Flovent, the Icelandic detective, had died having fallen into depression over the outcome of the investigation.

Operating over three separate time zones is something most authors approach with trepidation; and in my experience most would have done better to have played safe. But Indridason moves seamlessly between the three investigations and brings a strong sense of suspense to each. What is even more intriguing is the opportunity to follow the evolution of Iceland as a colony of Denmark during the war years through to the replacement of fishing by finance as the country’s main industry, and its recent recovery from the financial recession.  

The Shadow District is a very promising start to the new series promised by Indridason. It has to be presumed that the rest of the series will be based on the retired detective Konrad. That may well be problematic on two counts. Firstly, Konrad, is in my opinion, the weakest of the three detective characters featured here. Secondly, the strength of The Shadow District lies in the multiple time sequencing and the skill in which the author shifts between them.

Editor’s Note : The award-winning Arnaldur Indridason is making a rare visit to the UK, where he will be interviewed by fellow author Quentin Bates on May 18th at Heffer’s Cambridge and will be discussing The Shadow District  – Click Here for More details or call Heffer’s direct on 01223 463200 to reserve a seat. 

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