I am a huge fan of Indriðason’s Inspector Erlendur series. There’s something compelling about his writing style and the characters in the series. Not just Erlendur, but the the people who surround him. In fact, Indriðason has written two books who are tangentially about Erlendur, but are in truth about the two detectives he works with. In Reykjavík Nights we are treated not to a story about Erlendur the inspector but instead Erlendur the 20something (I think he’s 26) traffic cop.
Note: Don’t read this book unless you’ve the rest of the series. If you want to read Erlendur’s series, start with Jar City, the earliest book in the series to have been translated into English.
Reykjavík Nights follows the beginning of Erlendur’s path toward the detective we’re familiar with. This Erlendur is has no true experience solving crimes, he’s young and without a family of his own. While he has no wife or daughter, the baggage he does carry is the same that haunts him throughout the whole series.
Spoilers: The disappearance and probable death of Erlendur’s brother in a snowstorm, when they were both young, follows him, haunting him in at age 26. We learn that this loss has truly shaped him as a detective, in fact, the main case of Reykjavík Nights is only solved because of Erlendur’s obsession with missing people. End Spoilers
The novel is differs from the usual style of Indriðason’s Inspector Erlendur series. Instead of following Erlendur and his team as they try to solve a murder of some kind, we’re treated to two stories without. Reykjavík Nights has two halves: a procedural Law & Order type story line and an overarching crime that Erlendur must solve. The title of the novel itself is really only half the story, but this is not a bad thing
As a big fan of Law & Order, this novel read a bit like the Reykjavik version of that show — except that the characters (and Erlendur especially) were very well developed. We are treated to Erlendur’s experiences as a traffic/beat cop on the streets of Reykjavik. He works the night shift, hence the title, and Indriðason fills chapters with the exploits of Erlendur and his two partners. That sounds boring, but instead it’s the opposite. As much as I wanted to know what was happening in the other half of the story, these tales of the night shift serve a larger purpose, showing how ordinary people can sometimes become entangled in larger stories without even realizing it.
As always, I enjoyed the way Indriðason ties everything together. The larger crime is twofold — the death of a homeless man Erlendur met on the night shift and a woman who went missing around the same time the homeless man died. These two seemingly independent stories draw Erlendur in and we watch as he slowly begins to unravel them and eventually figure out what happened and how they’re connected. While the night shift stories are good, it is this second plot where the novel truly shines. We are treated to Erlendur, the budding inspector. But unlike the later series, this Erlendur doesn’t know what he’s doing, he messes things up, and he has to work alone. And yet, just as we expect, he does solve the mysteries he’s stumbled upon.
Reykjavík Nights is a treat for Erlendur fans and I am so happy it’s been translated into English. If you’ve read the rest of the series, definitely pick up Reykjavík Nights. While it’d still be a good read if you’re not familiar with the series, I would still recommend starting with Jar City. Regardless, I truly enjoyed this book and I cannot wait to read Into Oblivion, the follow up book to Reykjavík Nights.