Ali Karim is a Board Member of Bouchercon [The World Crime & Mystery Convention] and co-chaired programming for Bouchercon Raleigh, North Carolina in 2015. He is Assistant Editor of Shots eZine, British correspondent for The Rap Sheet and writes and reviews for many US magazines & Ezines.
The greatest writer of international police procedurals is without any shadow of doubt the award-winning Arnaulder Indriadson.
Every time one of his Reykjavik Detective novels is translated into English, no matter how tall the review pile is, an Indriadson novel jumps to the top of the list. Currently Indriadson has reached the film audiences of Europe and America with his screenplay [co-written with Oskar Jonasson] for the biggest budget film to come out of Iceland ‘Reykjavik Rotterdam’, remade for US audiences in English as ‘Contraband’ featuring Mark Wahlberg. Despite his film ventures, Indriadson is at his core the haunting literary crime novelist who chronicles the adventures of his Reykjavik Detectives, who explore the grim reality of human nature at its basest and most disturbing.
Following the conclusion of Artic Chill, the lynchpin of the series Detective Inspector Erlendur Sveinsson has been absent, on ‘walkabout’; contemplating and reviewing his childhood [following the discovery of what happened to his younger brother in a snowstorm]. This has given the series an interesting fork in the road. In the previous novel, Outrage, the story was told through the eyes of the policewoman Elinborg while Black Skies is told through the eyes of her colleague the US educated detective Sigurdur Oli.
The first contrast is that Elinborg is the more sympathetic of the duo [who work for Erlendur], due to the occasionally surly manner of Sigurdur Oli and his disdain for Icelandic policing due to his love of US culture [from his time spent working in America]. Oli also has less patience and finesse than Elinborg and is often prepared to ‘bend the rules’ a tad when squeezed for a result. Interestingly it is these precise faults that make his point-of-view perfect for Black Skies’ plot of corrupt bankers, and hidden motivations that makes the dark edges of human nature so troubling. Set in 2005, the title is a metaphor for the coming financial crisis that would engulf Iceland and produce an economic crisis that would ripple throughout the world.
The novel starts in what appears to be the well-worn path of the serial-killer motif. A drifter named Anders who is crafting a hideous killing device moulded from leather, which provides a tragic back-story to Black Skies, and one that sets the ball rolling. Sexual perversity is the order of the day, as in the preceding novel Outrage, where Elinborg investigated a series of ‘drug / date’ rapes; this time Sigurdur Oli is faced with a case of ‘wife swopping’ that leads to the extortion of a relative, of one of Oli’s former schoolmates, a banker.
The skill that is so evident in all Indriadson’s work, and especially in Black Skies is his ability to tell the tale with a brutal economy of words. The narrative is stripped down to its skeletal base, allowing the reader to become hypnotized when building the imagery that forms in the mind, and one that blends tragedy with humanity. This novel will force you to pause, and contemplate what you have read from time to time, comparing your own life against the protagonists’ misfortunes that peppers Black Skies.
Sigurdur Oli, who has his own marital problems, soon sees beyond the ‘wife swopping’ and extortion, to something far stranger. He sees the dangers of wealth and the carousel that spun faster and faster, and with each turn the riders never knew when to stop, or when enough was enough in their desire for amassing wealth.
The conclusion comes full circle and the tragedy of Anders, the drunken wino who became this way due to a fracture in his childhood made my eyes moisten, as did the tragedy of the bankers caught up in the machinations of greed. There is no finer writer working the literary police-procedural as, the melancholia that is - Black Skies is evidence of that statement.
Translated by Victoria Cribb