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The Shadow District

Review

The Shadow District

THE SHADOW DISTRICT is more than Arnaldur Indridason’s latest book; it is also the beginning of a new series. While Indridason by no means seems done with his Detective Erlendur novels, this parallel series featuring a retired but still active detective appears to be just as compelling. Two installments have been published so far, with THE SHADOW DISTRICT seeing the light of day in Indridason’s native Iceland in 2013 and now dropping in the US, thanks in part to the stalwart translation efforts of Victoria Cribb.

The retired detective, known as Konrad, is bored with his new life but is reluctant to involve himself in police matters. Still, he can’t help himself when Marta, his former partner, comes calling with an intriguing case. Ninety-year-old Stefan Thordarson, a retired engineer, has been found dead in his bed, an event that might be tragic but hardly seems unusual, at least at first. The autopsy reveals that the man was smothered with his own pillow. There is no indication as to who might have had a motive to do such a thing, particularly because the victim, even at his advanced age, was in good health and full of life.

"Konrad is an intriguing character, and I hope we learn more about him as the series progresses. Indridason spins a complex mystery that is (relatively) easy to follow."

An examination of his apartment turns up very few potential clues, aside from three newspaper clippings from the 1940s concerning the murder of a young woman whose body was discovered in what is known as the “shadow district” of Reykjavik. Konrad quickly learns that at the time of his death, Stefan had been conducting his own investigation into the apparently unsolved murder. But who would be concerned enough about Stefan’s activities to put such a drastic end to them --- and to him?

The narrative alternates between Konrad’s present and the Reykjavik of the past, when the city and Iceland were caught up in the throes of World War II, and the presence of American troops created an uneasy mood as a result of the involvement between Icelandic women and U.S. soldiers, referred to as “The Situation.” The investigations, past and present, reveal eerie and unexpected similarities between the murder in the shadow district in the 1940s and the disappearance some years before of another young woman from a rural district.

As Konrad uncovers what occurred in the past, he is eventually able to make the connection that Stefan determined just before his death and that resulted, long ago, in the death of more than one innocent. The questions that remain for Konrad --- even as he deals with his own tenuous connection to the long-ago murder --- is: Who in the present would have a motive to murder Stefan? And will justice come too late for all of the victims?

Konrad is an intriguing character, and I hope we learn more about him as the series progresses. Indridason spins a complex mystery that is (relatively) easy to follow. There is little guidance, though, with respect to the multiple shifts in time, so a notation as to date or even “Past” or “Present” would have made an extremely enjoyable read even better. That quibble aside, THE SHADOW DISTRICT is an impressive series debut from one of the masters of Nordic noir.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on November 22, 2017

The Shadow District
by Arnaldur Indridason

  • Publication Date: November 7, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books
  • ISBN-10: 1250124026
  • ISBN-13: 9781250124029