Into Oblivion: An Icelandic Thriller
I can still vividly remember my introduction to the Inspector Erlendur Sveinsson books. I was at Bouchercon Indianapolis with Carol Fitzgerald, midwife and parent to the website you’re reading right now. We were talking to British mystery literature critic, aficionado and force of nature Ali Karim about Scandinavian fiction. “Read JAR CITY,” Ali said. “You’ll love it.” He was right. JAR CITY was my introduction to author Arnaldur Indridason and Erlendur, the haunted and troubled Icelandic police inspector. The books in the series have dribbled steadily out of Indridason’s native Reykjavik, thanks in large part to the efforts of individuals such as Victoria Cribb, whose translation from the Icelandic gives us the newly published INTO OBLIVION.
"Fans of the series are well aware of how driven a detective Erlendur is, but it seems unlikely that even he will be able to solve this one. A word of advice, though: Bet on Erlendur."
INTO OBLIVION is the second of two Erlendur prequels, following 2015’s REYKJAVIK NIGHTS. Some 10 years have passed since the events of the latter book; it is now 1979, and Erlendur, a recently minted police detective, is still learning the ins and outs of the job from his senior partner, Detective Inspector Marion Briem. Erlendur and Marion are tasked with investigating the discovery of a dead body in a local mire. It is determined in due course that the death is the result of foul play and that the victim had ties to the local United States military base. The base is a source of discord in Iceland, with some resenting its presence while others see it as a benefit.
For Erlendur and Marion, however, it is an obstacle in their investigation, given that they get absolutely no official cooperation from the powers-that-be as they attempt to pursue potential suspects. Their only hope lies with a somewhat reluctant base resident and a waitress at a base pub who had ties to the deceased. It may not be enough, given that the CIA appears to have a tie to the case as well and fully intends to preserve the confidentiality of its own operations.
Meanwhile, Erlendur, constantly haunted by the disappearance of his brother decades before, pursues a very cold disappearance case on his own time, after happening upon an open but long-dormant investigation file involving a young woman named Dagbjört, who disappeared, seemingly into thin air, some 20 years previously while walking from her home to college classes. Strangely enough, there appears to be a tie to the U.S. airbase with this case as well, involving some deserted barracks that were utilized as squatter housing. It was rumored that Dagbjört was seeing a young man who was staying at the old barracks. If that is true, and he had something to do with the disappearance, how is Erlendur to find him after all this time? Or otherwise solve the case?
Fans of the series are well aware of how driven a detective Erlendur is, but it seems unlikely that even he will be able to solve this one. A word of advice, though: Bet on Erlendur.
I love this series, with its unrelentingly grim, hostile geographic backdrop and eternally troubled protagonist. There are still a couple of early installments that have yet to be published here in the United States, a situation that hopefully will be rectified at some point. Happily, though, there is plenty to enjoy and catch up on while we wait.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on March 3, 2016