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INTO OBLIVION
by Arnaldur Indriđason and Victoria Cribb, trans.
Minotaur, February 1970
356 pages
$25.99
ISBN: 1250077346


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The second prequel to the Inspector Erlendur series finds the young detective and his mentor, the gender-ambiguous Marion Briem, investigating the death of a man whose badly battered body has been found submerged in a geothermal pool near a power station. The injuries suggest he must have fallen from a great height. Though the police have no idea who the dead man is or how so many of his bones were broken, his clothes – including cowboy boots rarely seen in Iceland – are American, leading the detectives to wonder if the man might have a connection to a nearby American military base. This will make things difficult for the police. It's 1979, and the cold war is as hot as ever. The Americans who use the Icelandic base to repair fighter jets and spy planes have little interest in assisting the police with their inquiries or even in letting them question base personnel. It's only thanks to the reluctant curiosity of an African American MP that they're able to make any headway at all.

Meanwhile, Erlendur has an investigation of his own underway into the mysterious disappearance of a girl many years earlier. She was walking a short distance from her home when she vanished without a trace. Having learned of the case when he first joined the police, Erlendur can't seem to forget her, and spends his free time retracing her steps and talking to relatives and girlhood friends. There were rumors that she'd met a boy, someone who lived in Camp Knox, a nearby slum created when the poor took possession of the Quonset huts on an abandoned World War II-era military base – another war that Iceland was dragged into by foreign powers.

Iceland is a small and peaceful country with a low crime rate. To keep things realistic, Arnaldur Indriđason's mysteries tend to alternate cold cases with contemporary crimes. In this book, we have both kinds of cases unfolding in parallel. The only thing they have in common is the impact that Americans' use of the small island nation as an outpost during wartime has, bringing in jobs, pop music, and exotic foods as well as smuggling, drugs, and the kind of violence that comes of having too many bored people cooped up in small quarters.

Erlendur, who grew up on the other side of the country in the Eastern fjords, is a traditionalist. He doesn't approve of his government's willingness to house an airbase, nor of his countrymen's embrace of American culture. A theme throughout this series has been the fragility of Icelandic culture as the island nation becomes part of the wider world. A second theme has been the lingering pain of a childhood trauma. Erlendur and his brother became lost in a blizzard, and only Erlendur survived. He seems to yearn for a simpler past, when his country could remain aloof from the affairs of the world, before the brutal weather took his brother and left him with a lifetime of guilt. It's this yearning that drives him as an investigator, particularly in his off hours as he tries to learn the fate of a girl who vanished so close to home. While not the most gripping entry in the series, INTO OBLIVION continues to develop these themes and deepen our acquaintance with a dedicated detective who is nostalgic for simpler times.

§ Barbara Fister is an academic librarian, columnist, and author of the Anni Koskinen mystery series.

Reviewed by Barbara Fister, March 1990

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