OPERATION NAPOLEON is a stand-alone work, (almost) totally separate from Arnaldur Indridason’s much-heralded Detective Erlendur series. It was first released in 1999, the third of his books to achieve publication, and is very much ensconced in the thriller genre. Admittedly it is not as magical as his other novels, being somewhat different in tone and form from previous volumes, so fans of the series might approach the book with that in mind. Still, it does everything a thriller is expected to do.
"Arnaldur is an extremely talented author, and OPERATION NAPOLEON never disappoints"
Iceland and the United States have a long and complicated relationship, one that hangs its hat on the presence of a United States military base in that country. There is a portion of the Icelandic population that resents it and understandably so. Yet the military presence has become an economic crutch for the country. When an Icelandic glacier surrenders the wreckage of a mysterious aircraft that crash-landed during the closing days of World War II, the United States military demands the full cooperation of the Icelandic government in keeping quiet about it and staying out of the way. Part of the reason for this is that the plane bears Nazi markings, and its passengers, who long ago achieved popsicle temperature, consist of German and United States Army officers. It is felt that if the mission of this ill-fated plane was ever revealed to the world, the backlash would have repercussions for decades to come.
There is just one little problem, though, and it creates many big ones. An Icelandic safety force happens to be on the glacier when the retrieval force arrives. Two safety force members, off on a frolic of their own, discover the retrieval force. One of them, a free spirit named Elias, telephones Kristin, his more grounded sister, and tells her what he has seen just before he disappears. When Kristin is unable to regain contact with her brother, she starts making inquiries, even as a pair of deadly assassins begin an operation to tie up loose ends, of which she is the loosest. Kristin enlists the aid of an American soldier she had previously dated but summarily dumped, and the chase is on. She knows about the recovery, and little else, but that is still too much. She decides to go right into the belly of the beast and makes a dangerous and fateful trek to the glacier, where she discovers…well, that would be telling.
Arnaldur is an extremely talented author, and OPERATION NAPOLEON never disappoints, though the purpose of the secret mission is ultimately predictable. Still, there is much to love here, including an apparent cameo appearance from Erlendur and an interesting presentation of the dispute in Iceland over the presence of the American soldiers there. There is also an Epilogue that provides a somewhat jolting yet bittersweet ending to the proceedings, which in some ways is the best part of the book. While fans of the Erlendur books may be somewhat disappointed in OPERATION NAPOLEON, thriller readers --- and the two groups are not necessarily mutually exclusive sets --- will enjoy a wild ride through an unfamiliar setting with a bit of social commentary thrown in.