After writing nine novels featuring Inspector Erlendur, Arnaldur Indriðason took an unexpected detour with Reykjavik Nights and gave readers a glimpse back at the origins of his now iconic lead character.
As Reykjavik Nights opens, it is the late sixties or early seventies and Erlendur is a new-ish police officer assigned to the night shift. In Iceland, this means that he is dealing mostly with traffic incidents, drunk and disorderly calls, robberies, and maybe the occasional unexplained death. Arnaldur Indriðason uses this opportunity to take readers behind the scenes of typical police activity in Iceland’s biggest city.
About a year earlier a homeless vagrant named Hannibal, with whom Erlendur had made a sort of connection, was found drowned in the local waterway. As one would expect, this was attributed to a drunken accident and nothing much was done about it. But when Erlendur links Hannibal to a young woman who also went missing around that same time, his spot-on instincts tell him something more is going on.
After talking with Hannibal’s sister, Erlendur begins to understand that this was a man who was haunted by great tragedy in his past and perhaps the accident was really a suicide…one that may not even have been his first attempt. And yet, one unusual clue – a found earring – does not sit right with Erlendur and he continues his investigation during his off-hours unbeknownst to his superiors.
In Reykjavik Nights, Arnaldur Indriðason builds the ground-work that would blossom in Erlendur in the later (earlier) series novels. Readers get a sense of who this man was and how he became interested in the crimes that will eventually be his life’s work. Tidbits of Erlendur’s personal life are also on display here to the delight of long-time fans.
Reykjavik Nights works equally well for new readers as for those who are already familiar with the older Erlendur. The novel is also a great “historical” look back at a city and its past. Indriðason gives readers a feel for what Iceland was like before it became a coveted tourist destination. These two cases are fascinating and their eventual resolution is both surprising and expected in equal measure. Arnaldur Indriðason follows Reyjakvik Nights with another case from Erlendur’s past, so readers who enjoy this look back at his youth should check out Into Oblivion.