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Get Your Read On: Reykjavík Nights & Ashes To Dust

Get Your Read On: Reykjavík Nights & Ashes To Dust

Björn Halldórsson
Photos by
Art Bicnick

Published September 18, 2017

On a disgusting, dim, grey, rainy autumn day, what could be better than blasting up the radiator and getting stuck into an English-translated Icelandic novel?

Arnaldur Indriðason – Reykjavík Nights
Fans of Arnaldur Indriðason will already be familiar with his leading figure, the brooding and misanthropic Detective Erlendur. In this book, Arnaldur successfully pulls off the crime writer’s classic trick of returning a major character to their earliest years on the police force. The action takes place in 1974. Erlendur is still in uniform, crisscrossing the city in a black maria along with his fellow officers, rubbing shoulders with the city’s undesirables and finding foes and confidants among the crooks and derelicts. When an old bum with whom he’s acquainted is found drowned in a pond and a young woman disappears after a night on the town, no one sees a reason to connect their misfortunes except for Erlendur, who for personal reasons has a keen interest in missing persons. The delight of the novel is the vision it provides of the dark and gritty Reykjavík of the 1970s—isolated from the rest of the world and filled with desperate people recently arrived in the capital in search of a better life.

Yrsa Sigurðardóttir – Ashes to Dust
In 1973, the volcanic eruption of Eldfell threatened to permanently displace the people of Heimaey, the largest of the Westman Islands and home to 5000 inhabitants. Over 400 hundred homes were destroyed by lava flow or buried in mounds of ash during the eruption and the rescue work surrounding the evacuation of the islanders is a proud moment in Iceland’s history. These events provide the backdrop for Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s ‘Ashes to Dust,’ which is set in the modern day Westman Islands. Þóra Guðmundsdóttir, Yrsa’s heroine from previous novels, has gotten the job of helping to retrieve a mysterious property from the cellar of one of the buried houses—something that the owner, a teenager at the time of the eruption, doesn’t want anyone else to see. When the contents of the cellar are revealed to be human remains, Þóra must start an investigation to clear her client’s name, but she finds that the islanders are curiously tight-lipped about the history of the house and its inhabitants.

Read more about Icelandic literature here.


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