For the first time in my life, I find myself wishing it were a cold winter evening. The sun is shining and I let it tickle me, relishing its warm touch but disappointed at its awful timing.
It really isn’t the right day for a crime walk. Yet, here we stand—a group of six, not quite sure what to expect but ready to take the Dark Deeds Tour around the city with our guides for the day, Björn Unnar Valsson and Sunna Dís Másdóttir.
Between history and legend
Hosted by the Reykavík City Library since 2005, the Dark Deeds Tour takes you on a 90-minute adventure around some of the oldest corners of the capital while flipping through the most sinister pages of Icelandic literature. To me, it’s like wearing coloured lenses. I must have walked in front of these buildings a thousand times without so much as a glance. Now, all of a sudden, they acquire a life of their own as the natural stages to the stories Björn and Sunna read out loud. As they recite the words, the curtains open and we see it all happen before our eyes in every little, creepy detail.
The traffic down at the harbour is unbearably loud as Björn reads Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s ‘Silence of the Sea’, so we move quickly towards the government house, which was used as a prison until 1815. As Björn explains, lovers Steinunn and Bjarni spent a big chunk of their lives here after killing their respective partners in order to be together. Their tale of passion and murder quickly becomes a story of faded people who’ve turned grey in their sorrows, losing all they had in the name of love. It seems quite fit that the one to tell it is actually one of Steinunn’s descendants. “Don’t mess with me,” Sunna jokes, and everybody chuckles.
A bloody walk to remember
By the time we reach the former national library I wonder when the grimaces will replace the laughter. Glámur the ghost comes back from an old Icelandic saga to fight his nemesis Grettir but soon Björn and Sunna decide to turn the page and move on to another blood-stained chapter. The unpublished story about a murder in Frakkastígur, just five minutes away from where we stand, is gruesome, even stomach-turning in all its deviant details, but beautifully evocative. The stream of words almost drowns us in perversion and for a moment nobody can say a word, captured by a bone-chilling scene that’s almost too vivid.
Soon enough we trot off to our last stop: the house of renowned writer Benedikt Gröndal. With its steep roof and bright red facade, it’s hard to believe that this was once an old ghost ship, sailing the seven seas in the midst of a deathly fog and an even thicker silence.
As I look at the windows, now sparkling under the afternoon sun, I can’t help but wonder why the City Library does not organise more of these walks during the winter. Reykjavík’s colourful houses make up for most of the city’s charm during the summer, but it’s the cold, dark evenings of December that bring out its magic. When the snow coats the streets and muffles every sound, when the wind howls like a lone wolf and the night shrouds the city in its blanket for months, the Dark Deeds tour can finally have a stage that will truly chill your bones.