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The Shadow Killer by Arnaldur Indriðason

Published in Iceland in 2015; published in translation by St. Martin's Press/Minotaur Books on May 29, 2018

The Shadow Killer is the second (and, so far, the last) in the Flóvent and Thorson series, following The Shadow District. The story again takes place during World War II. The novel describes the first meeting of Icelander Flóvent and Canadian (of Icelandic parentage) Thorson, so the novel takes place before the events recounted in The Shadow District.

A dead body is found in the apartment of Felix Lundun. The deceased was shot in the head, execution style, and a swastika was marked on his forehead. Felix, a traveling salesman, seems to have disappeared. Flóvent, the only detective in Reykjavik’s Criminal Investigation Division during the war, wonders if he might have been killed by an American, given the relative inexperience that Icelanders have with execution-style murders. The bullet came from a Colt .45, the sidearm carried by American soldiers. Since an American soldier might be involved, Flóvent is teamed with Thorson, who works for the American military police.

Circumstantial evidence, including a cyanide pill, suggests that Felix might be a German spy. Iceland in 1940 was occupied by the British who were trying to keep it out of German hands, while Icelanders were trying to remain studiously neutral. Felix’s father is a Nazi sympathizer but somehow managed to avoid the British purge. His father’s brother claims to have abandoned his interest in the Nazis, while Felix himself is reputed to be an anti-Nazi communist. Thorson has heard a rumor that Churchill might drop in on Iceland, a visit that might be of interest to German spies, if any are lurking about.

Since Felix is the obvious suspect, the reader will immediately understand that he is innocent, at least of killing the man whose body was found in his apartment. Flóvent and Thorson take occasional beatings as they plod forward with their investigation forward. Eventually the plot addresses theories (popular at the time) that criminals share certain physiological features, leading Flóvent to investigate certain Nazi-inspired experiments that were rooted in those theories. Meanwhile, Thorson is investigating the woman who had been living with the murder victim, a two-timer named Vera who seems to have manipulated every man she ever met.

As was true in The Shadow District, the background to the story involves the relationship between Icelandic girls, who are excited to meet foreign soldiers and sailors, and the Morality Committee, comprised of older Icelandic adults who are inclined to lock up Icelandic girls in reform schools if they dare to fraternize with foreign members of the military. Nazi (or in this case, Icelandic Nazi) theories involving racial purity and Nordic/Viking ancestry also contribute to the novel’s background.

That background, in fact, is more interesting than the plot or the primary characters. Naughty Vera at least has a personality, while Thorson and Flóvent might as well be ice sculptures. Their detailed investigation is at times too detailed to make for a riveting story, although The Shadow Killer does allow the reader to join the investigators in puzzling over clues and pondering potential motives. The solution to the mystery comes as no surprise. The story too often drags to warrant a full recommendation, but the background is sufficiently interesting to warrant a guarded recommendation to fans of cold-weather fiction.


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