Black Skies is another superb crime novel by Arnaldur Indridason, and this one moves Sigurdur Oli, in the spotlight. That is because the previous main protagonist in the series, Erlendur is still travelling out east, and the second member of the triumvirate Elinborg is dealing with the case described in Outrage, the last novel in this series.
So the reader gets Sigurdur Oli’s slightly different perspective of Icelandic society, and a case about money, greed, child abuse, revenge and financial deceit.
Sigurdur Oli attends a school reunion where feeling low because his relationship with Bergthora is on the rocks, and he has just suffered a rejection from an attractive blonde, he is asked by his best friend, Patrekur, to help with a problem. Patrekur’s brother -in-law Hermann and his wife got involved in a trendy wife swapping group, and now a couple Lina and Ebbi are attempting to blackmail them with photographs. Hermann’s wife is vulnerable because she is trying to get ahead in politics. Sigurdur Oli goes round to apply some pressure to the couple, but on arrival finds Lina in the process of being attacked by a thug with a baseball bat. The attacker escapes and Sigurdur Oli not wanting to involve his friends has difficulty explaining why he was present at the time. The investigation is complicated when it is learned that Lina’s husband Ebbi organises trip to the glaciers for wealthy bankers, and the promiscuous Lina had been on the trip.
Indridason gives us a portrait of Icelandic society before the financial debacle. The bankers and financiers are buying luxurious houses with smart wooden floors, purchasing plush SUV cars, going on exotic holidays, and hiring chamber orchestras for parties; all on credit. A smug self satisfied Iceland appears proud that its financiers are buying up British high street stores and football clubs; all on credit. But alongside that is a desperate underclass of the abused,the alcoholics, and the drug addicted living in abject squalor. One of these desperate people, Andres, tries to contact Sigurdur Oli and his story is told alongside the main investigation into the attack on Lina.
Sigurdur Oli, who is missing out on the financial bonanza provided by the New Vikings, appears at first to be a less sympathetic character than Erlendur, or Elinborg, but as the novel proceeds and we learn about his interest in American sport, his relationship with Bergthora, and his incompatible divorced parents I warmed to the man. There is a particularly poignant passage where Sigurdur Oli phones Bergthora late at night hoping to repair the damage, and finds she has a new man in her life.
Indridason also gives us some witty humour, and cutting social commentary.
He could not bear the smell of the waiting rooms and surgeries, the waiting, and worst of all meeting the doctors- though dentists were top of the list. He could think of nothing worse than lying in a chair, gaping up at one of those millionaires, while he or she grumbled about the cost of living.
Iceland’s economic miracle may have been a mirage but this series continues to provide interesting plots, interesting social commentary and above all great character studies. While I was reading I couldn’t help thinking about the First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond and his quote that ‘ an independent Scotland would join fellow small, independent nations Iceland and Ireland in an “arc of prosperity”.’
‘We’re up shit creek,’ he confessed. ‘This house, the car. Everything’s on a hundred per cent loan; we’re mortgaged to the hilt. We owe money everywhere.’
More proof if we needed it that good crime writing is based on facts, and political rhetoric is inevitably based on fiction.
Black Skies may start slowly, but it is a clever book that grows on you, and it maintains the high standards set in this series.