Reykjavík is the new novel from Icelandic crime fiction superstar, Ragnar Jónasson, written in collaboration with the Prime Minister of Iceland, Katrín Jakobsdóttir. With that pedigree, anticipation for this new thriller is understandably high and thankfully, this writing duo more than satisfies.
Billed as “a crime story,” Reykjavík is both a well-crafted piece of crime fiction as well as a look back at the history of a country that is often misunderstood and overlooked. The novel starts in 1956 when a rookie policeman, Kristján Kristjánsson, travels to the island of Videy—just a short distance off the coast of Reykjavík—to investigate the possible disappearance of fourteen-year-old Lára Marteinsdóttir, who was working as a maid in the home of Supreme Court barrister Óttar Óskarsson and his wife, Olöf Blöndal. The story then jumps to 1966, by which time Lára’s missing persons case has become the most talked about unsolved crime in Iceland’s history, still flummoxing, Kristján Kristjánsson. The story then jumps to 1976, when a journalist asks Kristján to go on record with how the case has affected him these past twenty years.
All of that occurs in the first fifty pages of the novel, at which point Jónasson and Jakobsdóttir employ their final time-shift, accompanied by a change in point-of-view. It’s now 1986 and Valur Róbertsson, a journalist working for the Icelandic newspaper Vikubladid is working on a four-part series once again digging into the disappearance of Lára Marteinsdóttir. When Valur receives a mysterious phone call from a woman identifying herself as Júlía, he begins to honestly believe that he just might help to solve this decades-long mystery. Reykjavík features one other point-of-view—that of Sunna Róbertsdóttir, a literature student and Valur’s sister, who is determined to help her brother find justice for Lára.
1986 is the year of Iceland’s two-hundredth Anniversary, so this allows the authors to weave some history of the nation into the crime narrative. In many ways, the novel unspools as a sort of journalistic procedural, with readers following along as Valur and Sunna explore each new lead. Just as one would expect in a police procedural, the leads given to these journalists are sometimes useless and at other times the information provided is not examined in the correct context, leading the investigation down many dead-end paths.
Ultimately, the story at the core of Reykjavík involves politicians, movie stars, businessmen, lawyers, average citizens and more. In other words, the perfect microcosm of Iceland itself. The effortlessness with which Ragnar Jónasson and Katrín Jakobsdóttir write makes Reykjavík a fast and fun reading experience. Any clunkiness that might have resulted from a collaborative writing project has been skillfully avoided (or eased in editing). It also should be noted that the translation work done by Victoria Cribb feels natural and unobtrusive. Fans of Ragnar’s existing oeuvre will also delight in the appearance of Snorri Egilsson (a character from some other novels), in his early days with the Icelandic police department.
Each of the time periods is brought vividly to life and readers are able to experience the expansion of Iceland as a Global citizen as the years pass. The climax of the novel takes place on the day of the Cold War summit between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev—a historical moment that took place at Höfdi House in the heart of Reykjavík.
It’s unclear if Reykjavík is the start of a series, but the plotline resolutions could easily spur the authors in that direction. There is still plenty of Icelandic history to explore from 1986 to the present. Readers will want to read more from Jónasson and Jakobsdóttir—both in collaboration and on their own. Until then, be sure to pick up a copy of Reykjavík and follow along to discover what happened to Lára Marteinsdóttir.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No promotion was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.