Cover image of "The Shadow District" by Arnaldur Indridason, a novel from Iceland

When Germany invaded Denmark, Norway, and the Low Countries in April 1940, the British quickly moved to occupy the Danish dependency of Iceland. By 1944, tens of thousands of American troops had joined them there. Their impact on the insular people of the island kingdom was immediate, boosting the underdeveloped economy of the country and offering thousands of young Icelandic women with glamorous new romantic possibilities. When a 19-year-old seamstress in Reykjavik turns up dead, it was natural for the police to suspect that a GI was responsible. That was the first line of inquiry followed by the local detective and the American military policeman assigned to work the case with him.

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

The 1944 murder of the young seamstress is one of two parallel investigations traced by Arnaldur Indridason in his novel, The Shadow District. Seven decades later, a retired Reykjavik police officer named Konrad volunteers to help the short-staffed police by looking into the death of a 90-year-old man in that same neighborhood of the city. Partly because Konrad has some indirect connection to the 1944 case, and partly because evidence keeps turning up as his inquiry proceeds, he becomes convinced there is a connection between the two cases. In alternating chapters, Indridason follows Konrad’s investigation and that of the two police officers in 1944, gradually revealing the complex ways in which the two cases are related.

The Shadow District by Arnaldur Indridason ★★★☆☆

From Iceland, a book failed by its translator

Indridason is accomplished at plotting, his lead characters are believable, and his exploration of the Icelandic folklore that is a factor in the tale is fascinating. However, what is most striking about this novel is the consistently flat style of the writing. It appears that the translator is at least partly at fault. Awkward and ungrammatical passages crop up at frequent intervals:

  • “The manager of the nursing home was rushed off his feet . . . He was a big man and loud with it.”
  • “The man shook him by the hand.”
  • “she wasn’t especially good at her books.”

Perhaps these are obscure British figures of speech. I doubt it. (British spelling suggests the novel was first translated for publication in the UK.)

About the author

The Icelandic crime novelist Arnaldur Indridason has written 19 novels to date. Eleven of them constitute a series featuring the Reykjavik detective Erlendur; three more feature Young Erlendur. The Shadow District is one of five standalone novels. A former journalist, he published his first novel in 1997 at the age of 36. Arnaldur’s novels repeatedly top the bestseller lists in Iceland, and they frequently win awards.

Several years ago, I reviewed an earlier novel by this author, Hypothermia, an Erlendur novel published in 2007. My review is at From Arnaldur Indridason, a thriller that isn’t especially thrilling.

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