Posted: July 27, 2012 in Iceland, review

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”.’ 

The reality:

‘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.  

  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    Norman – Oh, as if Black Skies weren’t already on my TBR list! Thank you for the fine review. It’s so good to hear that this series continues to be excellent.

    • Norman Price says:

      Thanks Margot. I am a real Indridason fanatic and wouldn’t miss any of his books. I do miss Erlendur and hope he is safe in Eastern Iceland.
      Now I am on an Olympic countdown.:-) Let us hope it is a safe event, and there are no embarrassing malfunctions.

  2. Maxine says:

    South/North Korean flag, anyone? Great review, & love your quote about the dentist – they get everywhere don’t they?! I also think your Alex Salmond quote says it all.

  3. kathy d. says:

    I, also an Indridason fan, am in the middle of Black Skies. It’s good, no doubt about it. Now I have to finish it so as to pass it along to friends. I also wonder when Erlendur will return. Will it be in the next book? Or will we meet more of his colleagues or revisit the two we know already? I’ve noticed two more books to be translated.

  4. Yep! Another one to add to my TBR list. Love the social commentary.Does anyone know if there are others in the series besides Jar City that have made it to film?

    • Maxine says:

      So far as I know, Jar City is the only one they have filmed. But I do recommend Rekjavik Rotterdam, available on DVD. The script is by Indridason & the actor who played Erlunder in Jar City has a role (not the main role). I dislike comedy crime capers but this one is really good, I liked it (& the DVD was v cheap when I bought it on Amazon).

  5. […] Norm at Crime Scraps reviews Arnaldur Indridason’s Black Skies, the latest in the Erlendur series in which Erlunder is absent and the focus this time is on Sigurdur Oli. Though he was never my favorite character, Norm makes me impatient to read it. Rob Kitchin found it less successful, with the first half particularly hard to get into. […]

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