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A young woman walks into the frozen fjords of Iceland, never to be seen again. But Matthildur leaves in her wake rumours of lies, betrayal and revenge. Decades later, somewhere in the same wilderness, Detective Erlendur is on the hunt. He is looking for Matthildur but also for a long-lost brother, whose disappearance in a snow-storm when they were children has coloured his entire life. He is looking for answers. Slowly, the past begins to surrender its secrets. But as Erlendur uncovers a story about the limits of human endurance, he realises that many people would prefer their crimes to stay buried…

And so the end is near, and Detective Erlendur faces his final curtain.  Billed as the last book of the superlative Murder In Reykavik series to feature Erlendur, I will of course endeavour not to give anything away in terms of how likely he is to return or not, not wishing to mar your own journey across the frozen wastes with our long established Icelandic detective…

From the initial epigraph, taken from a poem by Icelandic poet Snorri Hjartarson, the novel carries a strange ethereal air, compounded by Erlendur’s involvement in two missing person cases, firmly rooted in the distant past. Indridason uses the conceit of Erlendur being on vacation to facilitate this, and crucially camping out in the ruins of his childhood home, neatly casting the pall of past events over the novel. From the haunting echoes of his past life that Erlendur experiences, as he revisits his brother’s disappearance when they were young boys, to the case of a missing woman, Matthildur, from many years previously that piques his interest as a detective, the associated guilt and the sense of unfinished business looms large throughout. Erlendur doggedly tracks the course of events leading to the woman’s disappearance, stirring up some uncomfortable truths and uncovering the wounds of the past in a controlled and slow burning, but eminently satisfactory central plot. Indridason employs his characteristic sublime pacing neatly reflecting the slow march of time, but also how incidental this is for those whose lives are so defined by events of the past.

The more elderly and curmudgeonly characters Indridason employs in this storyline are a joy, providing a wonderful mirror image of Erlendur’s own tendencies towards these darker and introspective moods. His interactions with them,  seeking to tease out the truth of past events is, at times, so filled with such poignancy that as a reader you will be genuinely moved, as the story of Matthildhur’s disappearance and that of Erlendur’s lost brother Bergur, converge and separate throughout the course of the book. The way that Indridason portrayed the older members of his cast was beautifully done, with some neatly fitting the traditional characteristics of a long hard life lived not without its attendant miseries, and others with a veritable twinkle of mischievousness about them. Erlendur himself pitches between his role as a natural investigator, and yet a man seemingly unable to solve the greatest mystery of his life, leading to his own reference back to and meditation on, his familial relationships.  The dark sense of introspection peppered throughout the story makes the tone absolutely fitting to a book billed as a final chapter to the exploits of long standing character. As to the outcome of Erlendur’s personal journey of discovery, I’m giving nothing away…

This was classic Indridason, employing his trademark precision of style and pared down dialogue, all within the arena of a beautifully imagined and flawlessly described Icelandic wilderness. Slow moving, thoughtful and with an almost supernatural feel to the whole book, Indridason continues to adhere to my own belief that he is incapable of letting the reader down, yet again producing a five star read to satisfy any lover of Scandinavian crime fiction.

Arnaldur Indridason, author of the Reykjavík Thrillers, was born in 1961. He worked at an Icelandic newspaper, first as a journalist and then for many years as a film reviewer. He won the Glass Key Award for Best Nordic Crime Novel for both Jar City and Silence of the Grave, and in 2005 Silence of the Grave also won the Crime Writers Gold Dagger Award for best crime novel of the year. The film of Jar City (available on DVD) was Iceland’s entry for the 2008 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. Indridason lives in Reykjavík with his family. Strange Shores published by Harvill Secker 15/8/13.

(With thanks to Harvill Secker for the ARC)
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