Arnaldur Indridason was born in Reykjavik on January 8, 1961. He graduated with a B.A. degree in history from the University of Iceland in 1996. He was a journalist at Morgunbladid newspaper from 1981 – 1982 after which he became a freelance script writer. From 1986 – 2001 he worked as a film critic for Morgunbladid.
Arnaldur has published a number of crime stories, the first was Synir duftsins (Sons of Earth) in 1997. Several of his earlier novels involve the same team of detectives. He has adapted three of his books for the Radio theatre at the Icelandic Broadcasting Service. Arnaldur is one of Iceland's leading crime story writers. He has received numerous awards for his books, among them the Glass Key Prize, an award given by Skandinaviska Kriminalselskapet (Crime Writers of Scandinavia) two years in a row, the first author to do so. In 2002 for his book Mýrin (Jar City, 2000) and in 2003 for Grafarþögn (Silence of the Grave, 2001). Silence of the Grave also received the Golden Dagger in 2005, hosted by the Crime Writer's Association in Britain. Arnaldur received The Drop of Blood, the Icelandic Crime Fiction Award, for Harðskafi (2007) and so was nominated for the Glass Key Prize a third time.
Arnaldur's books have been translated to a number of languages and been very well received abroad, as by readers and critics in Iceland. Arnaldur has received grants from The Icelandic Film Fund to write film scripts based on two of his novels. The Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur premiered his film based on Mýrin (Jar City) in October 2006.
Author photo: Einar Falur Ingólfsson.
From Arnaldur Indriðason
My first published thriller was Synir duftsins (Sons of Dust) in 1997, and since then I have published one a year: Daudarósir (Silent Kill) in 1998, Napóleonsskjölin (The Napoleon Files) in 1999 and last Christmas (2000) Mýrin (Jar City). The Napoleon Files differs somewhat from the rest in not being a detective story but a historical and international thriller set partly in World War II, but mostly in modern times. The others are detective stories or murder stories, portraying a team of detectives who continuously have new cases to handle and solve them at the end of the book.
I am always being asked whether it is possible to write thrillers in Iceland. Since I have written four and am working on the fifth I have to answer in the affirmative, but the question is completely justified: Is Iceland a good enough or desirable setting for thrillers? Isn’t it ridiculous to expect Icelandic readers to give credence to everything that happens in Icelandic crime stories? Can detectives with names like Erlendur Sveinsson or Sigurdur Óli ever compete on equal terms with stars such as Morse and Taggart and Dalglish or whatever those fictional British detectives are called who are so familiar from television? To say nothing of superstars like Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger in their Hollywood thrillers?
I can’t understand why Icelanders shouldn’t be able to write thrillers like anyone else. Crime stories and thrillers enjoy great popularity everywhere else and moreover, which is perhaps stranger for those of us who are involved with them in Iceland, they enjoy the respect of the literary community. Of course, there is a very strong tradition for such stories in Britain, the home of Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie, and in the United States where Chandler and Hammett emerged a lifetime ago, while in Scandinavia an exciting tradition has been created over the decades, probably best known in Iceland through the works of Sjöwall and Walhöö, all of which were published in translation. A major influence on their writing was the American detective story writer Ed McBain, one of the apostles of US crime fiction.
The history of Icelandic crime fiction, on the other hand, is neither great nor impressive. In the first half of last century the occasional book appeared, set in the capital like Secrets of Reykjavík, but the genre failed to take root. Few people tackled it and those who were shy of being associated with such writing produced their books under pseudonyms. As the century progressed the occasional crime story appeared at long intervals. In the seventies a young author, journalist Gunnar Gunnarsson, began working with this form, modelling his books on Sjöwall and Walhöö. He wrote two novels featuring the main character, Margeir og spaugarinn (Margeir, and the Joker), but stopped in 1980 and has not written any crime fiction since. Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson wrote Heitur snjór (Hot Snow) in the eighties and shortly afterwards Ólafur Haukur Símonarson wrote his only crime story, Líkid í rauda bílnum (The Corpse in the Red Car), which remarkably enough won a prize in a French competition for thrillers. Nothing happened afterwards until I published Synir duftsins (Sons of Dust) in 1997, and the same year Stella Blómkvist – or the author writing under that nom de plume – published Mordid í stjórnarrádinu (Murder in the Ministry). This heralded something of a revival for the Icelandic thriller and others appeared. Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson published a second book, Engin spor (No Trace), Árni Þórarinsson wrote Nóttin hefur thúsund augu (The Night Has a Thousand Eyes) and Hrafn Jökulsson wrote Miklu betra en best (Much Better than Best), to name a few.
I think I went in for writing crime stories by accident. At least, this was not a conscious decision, and I did not realize until I had finished my first novel that it could be bracketed as a thriller or crime story. It dealt with a young man whose brother, a patient at a mental hospital, committed suicide, for a specific reason which he searches for until the end of the book. He is assisted in his investigations by two detectives whom I have kept hold of and featured as the main characters in another two books, and I am now working on the fourth.
The detectives are named Erlendur Sveinsson and Sigurdur Óli, and if asked about the prototypes I based them on, I am lost for a reply. As everyone knows, there are myriad detectives and spies in literature, on the television and in films from other countries, only a few of whom were mentioned above. My cops are undoubtedly created under some influence from what I have found out from crime stories and movies, I have been a film critic on Morgunbladid newspaper for many years and have perhaps seen more of that sort of entertainment than is good for me, and I also now write about foreign thrillers for the paper. Of course I have also been influenced by what I know and see and read, but have trouble identifying amidst all that flood any particular models that have affected more than others when I was creating these cops of my own.
Although I cannot name any direct prototypes, I have the feeling that they are Icelandic rather than foreign, people I know or have become acquainted with over the years. Just as the stories are primarily Icelandic, dealing with Icelanders, taking place in an Icelandic setting and even revolving around current issues in Icelandic society at the time. In other respects I think my stories feature the classical police duo. Erlendur is the elder one. He is old-fashioned in his ways and views, a patriot and nationalist, a reactionary, a loner who enjoys Icelandic fiction, old Icelandic lore and accounts of human ordeals (his favourite series is Lost on the Moorland Roads, about people who die of the cold in the highlands), he has a nasty divorce behind him and his children are remote from him; he is lonely and depressive but obstinate when it comes to criminal investigations, and doesn’t give up until the very end. Sigurdur Óli is the complete opposite, modern, married, smartly dressed, he cannot stand thinking about the past but only wants to look ahead, is intolerably pedantic, yuppyish and dull. The two are quite incompatible, but when their cooperation is required it takes them where they want to go.
They’ve looked into all sorts of cases. They have investigated suicide, arson, cloning, missing persons, child death, fishing quota frauds, the drift from the regions, dope dealing, the expansion of Reykjavík, organ snatching, databases, murder; they have known sorrow and love and death, and although this does not upset Sigurdur Óli too much, every single case haunts Erlendur’s soul, making him grumpy, depressed and full of ennui. He is moved by what he sees on the streets of Reykjavík and what he witnesses in his murder investigations, and all this makes his character increasingly stiff. It is through Erlendur that the reader experiences the cases and, if I do the job properly, should experience it in the same way. Erlendur is therefore a key figure and main character in the stories, and the more stories that appear about him, the better the reader gets to know him, and the better I do too, although I still don’t know him or understand him properly.
One thing I do know: above all else he is an Icelander. I don’t think Iceland is a worse choice than other places in the world for thrillers or crime fiction, and I feel that the attitude towards Icelandic crime stories is changing. Admittedly, they lack a tradition of their own, their history is in the context of other Icelandic literature, very sparse and exceptionally disjointed except for very recent years when a handful of authors have appeared who allow themselves to deal with Iceland as the setting for crimes with a modicum of sense. The point has now been reached where every year two or more Icelandic crime stories are published which earn not only attention but also even popularity. One explanation for the ascendancy of crime fiction in recent years is that people find Iceland a more credible setting for them now. Iceland has broken its isolation as never before with the advent of the computer and television age; the Internet and the film industry, computer games, foreign novels – both translated and in the original languages – and easier travel have not only brought us closer to the maelstrom of world events but also made Iceland a participant in numerous fields of technology, business and politics.
I also think that, with the growing supply of foreign entertainment every year, people want to see Iceland or Reykjavík and Icelandic people playing some role. The same applies, for example, to the cinema. We want to make Icelandic films even though we are swamped with foreign material, because we want to identify with the world we know best and the people, attitudes and environment that are our own and not created by foreigners.
A recurrent complaint is that nothing ever happens in Iceland on which a thriller or crime story can be based. Major crimes such as murder are rare and generally committed in a drunken stupor when a party in someone’s house takes an unexpected course. Extensive searches for murderers are rarely mounted. There are plenty of witnesses. The unfortunate perpetrator spends several years in prison and is then released. Of course there are exceptions, and unfortunately violence appears to be on the increase in Iceland, with television and films often being singled out for the blame. But I think the violent disposition or criminal character of Icelanders plays no role in the writing of crime stories. What matters is whether the author manages to make something of the setting at his disposal, and makes it both convincing and credible in the reader’s eyes. Location does not really matter, although personally I find Iceland a very exciting and interesting setting for crime fiction. The crucial point about setting crime fiction in any country at all is to believe and understand, on your own terms, what is happening in the story, believe the characters and what they do and say, believe in them, believe that they could exist and be dealing with the circumstances in which they are placed, such as a murder inquiry. So it depends more on the author than where he lives whether or not he succeeds in producing credible crime stories. Danish novelist Peter Hoeg’s famous thriller, Smilla’s Sense of Snow, was largely set in Greenland. He managed to make the setting convincing through strong imagination and skilful writing.
Hoeg is indeed a writer who has commanded attention for a thriller of high literary quality. He confused people. No one really knew whether he had written pulp fiction or a valid literary work. People were torn both ways, just as they were when Umberto Eco wrote The Name of the Rose a decade and a half ago. This was a murder story or a thriller, but it was woven into the setting and surroundings of the Middle Ages and written in such a way that it was discussed more in terms of a literary work or novel than leisure reading. Both these writers, and more besides, have very much blurred the boundary between low and high culture in literature, between what is considered cheap fiction and precious.
As we know, there is a strong prevailing literary tradition in Iceland and all lower life-forms in the literary flora have been very much looked down upon. Doubtless this is one reason for the lack of crime stories here and lack of tradition for writing such literature. The reference point in Iceland was what you could call lofty, serious literature, and the demand was always to write great fiction. Thrillers and crime fiction clearly had no place within the prevailing definition of what Icelandic literature ought to be, and people were shy about writing anything that could be deemed low. Entertainment and leisure reading were nasty words which had nothing to do with Icelandic fiction. Of course, authors wrote about crimes in their novels, but no proper crime stories appeared. It was really not until the past very few years that people began to dare to grope towards them. New authors entered the scene, readers responded when they saw that no risk was involved, and we should not forget that publishers are showing an increasing interest in thrillers, and I think are making outright efforts to secure them for publication at the moment.
They know there is nothing to say that a good crime novel cannot also be good fiction, and greater and better literature than what goes by the name of quality fiction. A quality crime story can be a quality novel and I think that, in the course of time, this will be recognized. This branch of literature, the Icelandic crime novel, is very young and really still in its infancy, but if thrillers are given the chance to flourish and people keep on writing them, we will eventually acknowledge the best of them as real literature and an interesting complement to Icelandic writing.
The only demand that I think we can make towards a work of fiction is that it should be enjoyable and interesting, written in such a way that we can be bothered to read it, and that it should tell us something new about ourselves, shed new light on our lives and existence. To my mind, all novels are leisure reading. It does not matter whether we are dealing with, for example, a true thriller or lofty literature; the same rule applies to both. In this respect I do not think the boundaries between belles-lettres and entertainment are as strong as they once were. Belles-lettres are entertainment and entertainment can be found in belles-lettres, and to a large extent these overlap in the books being written today.
I hope the crime novel will take root in Icelandic literature and win acknowledgement on a par with other forms. There are various signs that this will be the case. We may have made a late start, but that probably does not matter. The point is that Icelandic crime fiction has become a reality and if things are done properly I have no doubt that it will flourish.
Arnaldur Indridason, 2001.
Translated by Bernard Scudder.
Reykjavík by day and night
A fierce wind was blowing over Midnesheidi Moor. It had swept south from the highlands, across the choppy expanse of Faxaflói Bay, before ascending again, bitterly cold, onto the moor.
This is how the novel Into Oblivion (Kamp Knox, 2014) begins. The description is chilly and one of many examples where the country‘s name, Iceland, tells half of the story in Arnaldur‘s Indriðason texts:
Exposed to open sea and northern blast, only the toughest plants survived here, their stalks barely protruding above the level of the stones. The wind raised a shrill screeching as it penetrated the perimeter fence which loomed out of this bleak landscape, then hurled itself against the mighty walls of the aircraft hangar which stood on the highest ground. It raged with renewed force against this intractable obstacle, before hurtling away into the darkness beyond.
One of the marks of Arnaldur‘s work is exactly this bleak tone, fully in harmony with the bleak reality described in his books: crimes, murders and a general darkness of the soul.
It was well into the evening but the sky was still bright. Erlendur looked out of the window. It would not get dark, either. He always missed that in the summer. Missed the darkness. Yearned for the cold black of night and the deep winter.
It should come as no surprise to Arnaldur Indriðason’s readers that the detective Erlendur Sveinsson does not like the Icelandic summer light. Winter is Erlendur’s season, he prefers the dark and the cold that are so characteristic of most of Arnaldur’s tales. This feature of Arnaldur’s writing is evident right from the first page of his first novel: “It was a frosty January and the mighty building was bathed in gloom. It stood alone by the sea, surrounded by a large and dark thicket of trees” (“Það var frostkaldur janúar og nöturleikinn draup af voldugri byggingunni. Hún stóð ein niðri við hafið, umkringd stórum og dimmum trjágarði.”) The building described is a psychiatric hospital and a suitable location for the beginning of events in Sons of Dust (Synir duftsins, 1997). Moreover, as the quote implies, the cold is everywhere, not only in the outward setting but also within the characters, including Erlendur himself. In fact, the description of the bleak psychiatric hospital is in tune with the image drawn of Icelandic society in general. This continual theme of cold and darkness hangs together with the description of Icelandic crimes often seen in Arnaldur’s works:
[...] flest mál rannsóknarlögreglunnar snerust um algjöra smáglæpi. Mest var um innbrot í sjoppur. Innbrot á skrifstofur. Tölvuþjófnaðir voru mjög í tísku. Fjárdráttur starfsmanna í fyrirtækjum. Ömurlega óspennandi mál. Íslenskir glæpamenn voru yfirhöfuð afar ómerkilegir. [...] Íslenskir morðingjar voru fágætir og auðfundnir yfirleitt af því morð voru ekki framin af yfirlögðu ráði heldur af slysni eða menn voru gripnir stundarbrjálæði.
[...] the majority of the cases involved petty crimes. Most of them burgled newsagents. Burgled offices. Stealing computers was very fashionable. Embezzlement. Dismally uninteresting cases. Icelandic criminals were on the whole very unremarkable. [...] Icelandic murderers were rare and usually easily found because most murders were not premeditated but the result of an accident or a fit of momentary madness.
This is a pretty interesting description by an author who is here starting out as a crime writer. Arnaldur has since repeated a variation of this description in nearly every one of his books, which number 20 when this is written. During most of those 20 years his books have been secure in their place at the top of Icelandic bestseller lists, as well as providing their author with numerous foreign admirers and awards. It would seem clear that the phrase “dismally uninteresting cases” does not itself apply particularly well to Arnaldur’s stories, even though this description is true of the murders about which he writes. In most cases the crimes do conform to this description, and often it is only by coincidence that they do not get solved at once. Clearly a “dismally uninteresting case” can be the foundation for an interesting and exciting novel.
In Icelandic as well as non-Icelandic reviews of Arnaldur’s books, two elements are often emphasised: cold and bleakness. These are certainly the tones of the setting of the novels and the emotional scale perused by the author. However, it must not be forgotten that Arnaldur’s works also contain subtle yet rich humour, a quality which is important for their readability and addictiveness. Erlendur is given a deep black sense of humour, while also being able to empathise with those who find themselves on the margins of society.
When Arnaldur Indriðason’s first novel, Sons of Dust, was published in 1997, crime writing was not practiced in Iceland, even though translated crime stories were common. Arnaldur was at this time a journalist and a film critic for Morgunblaðið, at that time Iceland’s biggest newspaper. He was 36 years old and had never published fiction, at least not formally.
It was clear from this first book that Arnaldur’s intention was to write a series of crime novels, a string of books in the same vein as works by the Swedish authors Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö who together wrote ten novels about their team of cops. Even though Erlendur and Sigurður Óli were not really the main investigators in this first case, it was obvious that this was a foundation for further characterisation. Detective Elínborg is briefly mentioned in the first novel and has a slightly bigger role in the second, Silent Kill (Dauðarósir, 1998). Since Jar City (Mýrin, 2000) she has become a permanent member of the team. Eva Lind, Erlendur’s daughter and a drug addict, is introduced graphically in Sons of Dust but the alcoholic son, Sindri Snær, is not seen fully characterised until Silent Kill, even though he is mentioned in the first book. Erlendur and Sigurður Óli both make a cameo appearance in Operation Napoleon (Napóleonsskjölin, 1999). That novel is, however, not a part of the Erlendur-series and is more of a thriller. Arnaldur is fully in charge of the police story form in Jar City and starts working more pointedly with his characters and their lives, and as regular readers know, Arnaldur devotes more time to his characters as the series progresses. This applies particularly to Erlendur, and from Voices (Röddin, 2000) onwards his role as a character in the novels becomes more prominent. Two books, Hypothermia (Harðskafi, 2007) and Strange Shores (Furðustrandir, 2010), are in fact more or less solely about him, especially the latter. In the three novels following Strange Shores readers meet with Erlendur as a young police officer, first very briefly in The Great Match (Einvígið, 2011), and then as a young man with a promising career in Reykjavík Nights (Reykjavíkurnætur, 2012) and Into Oblivion.
The mysterious Marion Briem first appears in Jar City and other characters wonder if Marion is female or male. Erlendur is silent on this matter (as is Arnaldur), and even manages to keep the gender obscure in The Great Match, where Marion is the main character. Arnaldur played this game of hiding the gender in another novel, the noirish Bettý (2003), where the eponymous character is a typical femme fatale. She seduces a young lawyer and all goes badly, as the tradition demands. The tradition, however, is given a twist with Arnaldur’s game of gender.
Missing persons are a prevalent theme in all of Arnaldur’s novels, starting in Sons of Dust. In fact such cases are discussed right after the previously quoted description by Arnaldur of Icelandic crimes: “There were cases of unexplained missing persons and they seemed to be on the increase.” (“Til voru dæmi um óútskýrð mannshvörf og þeim virtist fara fjölgandi.”) Erlendur takes cases of missing persons seriously, as well as identifying with the loss and sorrow associated with them. The bleakness of missing persons cases and the lack of official interest in them is reflected in the chilly description of Icelandic murders. In most cases this description applies equally well to the killings committed in Arnaldur’s books. Here it is worth mentioning that two of the most infamously unsolved crime cases in recent memory in Iceland, the so-called cases of Guðmundur and Geirfinnur, are in fact missing persons cases. However, it is not until Silence of the Grave (Grafarþögn, 2001) that the story of Erlendur’s missing brother is told, who disappeared in a blizzard when they were boys.
When Erlendur tells Eva Lind, as she is comatose, about the disappearance of his brother, this immediately tells the reader many things about his character, for example the fact that he is unable to open up to people under ordinary circumstances. Previously it had been repeatedly made clear that Erlendur is very interested in missing persons and in Icelandic stories about hardships suffered when travelling in uncharted country. He himself disappeared from his wife and two children, apparently almost without saying goodbye. This marred his relationship with his children, as his wife refused him access to them. He allowed her to have her way in this matter, which means he does not really get to know his children until they are teenagers, and by then they are both addicts.
This emphasis on the personal issues of policemen is well in line with the tradition of crime fiction and police stories that Arnaldur’s work adheres to. Such stories became popular in the 1960s, and the best known examples in Iceland are the books by the Swedish writing team Sjöwall and Wahlöö. They are marked by the simple fact that the police work and the social position and placement of the police officers are important issues in the stories together with the crime cases. In addition, the private lives of the police officers contributes much to the narrative. Less known today, but no less important for Arnaldur’s writing, are the Belgian crime novels by Georges Simenon, about the loner Maigret. The first of these was published in 1931.
In her article, “Erlendur’s Family Tree” (“Hverra manna er Erlendur?”, 2003) Kristín Árnadóttir writes: “When the Erlendur novels are examined as a whole a certain development is apparent [...] in Erlendur’s character” (“Þegar sögurnar um Erlend eru skoðaðar sem heild kemur í ljós ákveðin þróun í frásögninni [...] hvað varðar persónu Erlends”). When this article was written, Voices was the most recent novel. As it turns out, this notion of a collection of novels forming a cohesive whole has become even stronger, to the point where the series is a kind of Saga of Erlendur, a saga which is further strengthened with the addition of the books on young Erlendur. This feeling of cohesiveness is mainly grounded in Erlendur’s character, less on other characters or chains of events or even the story.
Erlendur is a loner and avoids human contact, feeling more at ease when among his books, all of which are about missing persons and hardships suffered when journeying through the Icelandic countryside in all weathers. Such books have actually always been very popular in Iceland and are still so, the best known example being a series called Hrakningar og heiðavegir (Hardships and mountain roads). Erlendur’s love for books does, however, not appear right from the beginning, but it would seem that his character absorbs some characteristics of the second hand bookseller Pálmi, who is the main character in Sons of Dust. Pálmi does not appear again in Arnaldur’s books, but it could be argued that some threads of his character have been recycled to strengthen the personality of Erlendur. This is further emphasised by the fact that the novels contain extensive literary references, mainly to Icelandic literature.
Another notable issue is that despite his tendency to be reclusive and not much given to socialise, Erlendur seems to be particularly good at reaching people and getting them to reveal information relating to the investigations. In addition he is very open minded and liberal, he feels strongly for those people who are at the margins of society and strongly disapproves of any prejudice. Interestingly, this creates a contradiction in Erlendur’s personality, as he is mainly shown as quite a moody and grumpy self-educated man in his early fifties. This becomes even more clear when his character is compared with Sigurður Óli. Sigurður Óli is in his thirties, is well educated but not broad minded and his relationship with Erlendur is at times rather colourful. His role in the novels is of course in part to be a foil to Erlendur.
As already discussed, Erlendur’s presence in the series becomes more prominent with each novel. The exceptions to this are Outrage and Black Skies, where Elínborg and Sigurður Óli respectively occupy the main roles, while Erlendur is absent. Both Elínborg and Sigurður Óli do feature in the series from the beginning. Elínborg’s interest in cooking is introduced in the second novel and in The Draining Lake (Kleifarvatn, 2004) she publishes her first cookbook. In addition, her family life is discussed in Outrage. She is happily married but is having trouble with her teenage son who has started to discuss sensitive personal family issues on the internet. Sigurður Óli is at first single and seems to have a tendency to drink too much but this all gets straightened out when he meets Bergþóra, the main witness in Silent Kill. They move in together but when they fail to have a child she decides she wants to adopt. Sigurður Óli, however, is not so sure and eventually they separate. In Black Skies, Sigurður Óli is very much alone and seems to be having problems finding firm ground. There are brief references to his childhood in Arctic Chill but it is not until Black Skies that the reader gets to find out more about his family, and meet with his ambitious mother who is a rich accountant and his father, a modest craftsman who has just been diagnosed with prostate cancer. The parents are long since divorced and their relationship is in many ways similar to that of Erlendur’s with his former wife. This makes Sigurður Óli’s lack of patience towards Erlendur somewhat more understandable.
As already stated, Erlendur’s interest in missing persons is apparent from the beginning of the series. It is almost as if he feels partly bound by duty to investigate them, especially as he suspects that behind many of these cases there lies a murder. In Silent Kill he discusses a murder case with Eva Lind, but the case comes to nothing and is eventually signed off as a missing person case:
[...] það var svo sem enginn sem kippti sér upp við það þótt þessi maður kæmi ekki í leitirnar. Íslendingar hafa einkennilegt viðhorf til mannshvarfa. Þeir hafa einhvern veginn vanist þeim í gegnum aldirnar þegar menn voru að týnast í vondum veðrum og svo fundust skinin beinin eftir hundrað ár og hvarfið varð að enn einni skemmtilegri draugasögu. Meira að segja Geirfinnsmálið hefur ekki breytt því að neinu ráði. Við kippum okkur ekki mikið upp við mannshvörf nema í undantekingartilvikum. Þau eru partur af íslenskum þjóðsögum.
[...] nobody seemed bothered by the fact that this man was never found. Icelanders have a strange attitude to missing persons. They have somehow become used to such events throughout the centuries, since many people have been lost in bad weather and their bones and skin are not found until after a hundred years or so. Such disappearances have often turned into one of many fun ghost stories. Even the Geirfinnur case has not changed this to any real extent. With few exceptions, Icelanders do not make a great deal of fuss over missing persons. They are a part of Icelandic folklore.
Of course Erlendur is often proven right, since missing person cases are often related to crimes, as seen in the first book where a missing person is one of the keys to the solution of the case. From Silence of the Grave onwards the missing person cases take up more space in the narrative and it is also revealed that Erlendur’s interest in such cases is personal. In the stories that follow, the cases seem to be more and more related to his personal trauma, and this serves to underline the deep effect his brother’s disappearance has had on him. In Voices, the murder victim is a former choirboy and a child star who was never able to get his bearings as an adult. In a sense, he ‘froze’ as a child, and this fact, in addition to the cold that permeates Erlendur’s hotel room (the heater is broken), brings Erlendur to think about his brother and even dream about him. The dream is so vivid that Erlendur actually wonders if he saw a ghost. Even though the supernatural is generally absent from the stories and Erlendur himself is quite adverse to any such talk (as is discussed in Hypothermia) the mystical does make various appearances in the novels. The frequency of this phenomenon increases towards the end of the series. There are mediums and messages from the ‘beyond’ and in this way Arnaldur manages to have his cake and eat it. He entertains the possibility of the existence of ghosts while never confirming anything of the kind, until this game reaches a certain peak in Erlendur’s dreams in Strange Shores. In this novel, his dreams could almost be described as a haunting.
In The Draining Lake, the memory of his missing brother haunts Erlendur, as the case and its investigation centres largely around missing persons, and in Arctic Chill, where the murdered boy is half-Thai, Erlendur is again reminded of his lost brother. In Hypothermia, the reader realises that this cannot continue, especially after a medium whom Erlendur is interrogating indicates that he sees something ‘around’ Erlendur. Earlier, in Silence of the Grave, Erlendur accidentally meets with a medium when visiting his daughter at the hospital. She grabs his hand and asks him to wait, saying: “There is a little boy in the blizzard”. Erlendur does not take this well and then the woman adds: “You have nothing to fear […] He accepts it. He’s reconciled to what happened. It was nobody’s fault.” In this way a certain chain of events has been set in motion early in the series. In Hypothermia, the main case concerns the line separating life and death. Ghosts of the past haunt a woman who then appears to have hanged herself in her summerhouse in Þingvellir. As a young man her husband took part in an experiment to kill a man by cooling him down to the point where his heart stopped, before attempting to revive him. As well as investigating the case of the woman’s suicide, Erlendur starts working on two old missing person cases and eventually solves both of them. However, the theme of the book is less concerned with crimes than the loss and sorrow of the friends and family of the missing and the dead.
At the end of Hypothermia, Erlendur leaves for the eastern part of the country, disappearing “into the cold fog”, and this thread is then continued in Strange Shores where Erlendur spends the whole novel in the area where he grew up. Here he is living in the ruins of his family’s old homestead, yet again seeking any signs of his brother’s remains. At the same time, almost as a coincidence, he starts to study an old story about a missing person, leading to a dramatic conclusion, not unlike that of the Silence of the Grave. In this way Strange Shores marks a climax in the story of the vanished brother. Erlendur is continually recalling memories from his childhood and the feelings of guilt that have formed a thread throughout the books become even stronger. It is this guilt that has played a big part in forming Erlendur’s personality and made him into this contradictory figure. He blames himself for the disappearance of his brother and later the addictions and spoiled lives of his children. As well as being the final chapter in the search for his brother and in Erlendur’s own self-accusations, it is indicated that through finally finding the remains of his brother he is able to solve his own ‘case’.
This added emphasis on the loss of his brother is aligned with the changes in Erlendur’s character. In the first two books, and even the subsequent two, he is quite grumpy and easily angered but as the series moves on his temper seems to cool and the emphasis is rather placed on analysing and understanding what has moulded his remarkable character.
“This is not an American movie” (“Þetta er ekki amerísk bíómynd”) Erlendur says to Sigurður Óli in Arctic Chill. They are discussing a missing person, a woman, and Sigurður Óli wonders if she had life insurance. A missing person is one of the cases investigated in the novel, but the main focus is on the murder of the half-Thai boy. This unavoidably involves a review of the multi-cultural society in Reykjavík, the social status of immigrants and attitudes toward them. The setting is Breiðholt, a suburb of Reykjavík most densely inhabited by people with a foreign background. This discussion about the cohabitation of immigrants and non-immigrants is, however, in no way similar to that seen in American films, and Erlendur’s words apply equally to both groups. Indeed this is neither the first nor the last time that he makes similar announcements. This theme is contrasted with descriptions of the cold reality of Icelandic crimes, described as accidents or as simply a poorly organised mess.
Thus the function of the crime plot, it seems, is not to illustrate the ingeniousness of the investigators, nor to give the reader an insight into the world of glamorous gangsters. The emphasis is rather on the social context and in particular the social problems revealed by the crimes, and of which the crimes are a part. This does not mean that the form of the crime novel is used to mount an organised attack on various big issues, i.e. political corruption, drugs, prostitution, sexual violence, etc., but rather that Arnaldur’s criticism is doled out in small doses, through everyday events that happen in the course of the investigation.
To a certain extent it can be claimed that the everyday is an issue in Arnaldur’s works, no less than the crimes. This emphasis on the everyday also appears in the measured style of Arnaldur’s novels, and the practical use of language. In her article, “Á kálfskinnsfrakka eða Arnaldur Indriðason og bókmenntahefðin” (“In a Calf-skin Coat or Arnaldur Indriðason and the Literary Tradition”, 2010), Bergljót Kristjánsdóttir points out how prejudice against the crime novel in Iceland appears in a criticism of Arnaldur’s style of writing, which has been deemed bad, dry and flat. Bergljót does not agree with this at all and the quotations above should be a good indication of how Arnaldur chisels his style deliberately to create an atmosphere that suits the story. The style is in many ways a reflection of Erlendur’s own style of talking. An example of this can be found in a description early in Strange Shores where Erlendur has joined a fox-hunter whom he met with previously in the novel. The hunter is very talkative and tells Erlendur long stories. Erlendur is “Uncertain whether the farmer was addressing him or merely thinking out loud, he did not reply.” As a general rule Erlendur chooses to be silent rather than to say something back to the fox-hunter, and the same applies to the writing style of the novels.
This measured presentation is still being formed in the first two books and Silent Kill contains some long monologues against the fishing quota system, which is thoroughly criticised in the novel. The fishing-quota system is one of the few large political issues that are denounced in Arnaldur’s work, appearing again in Bettý. In Jar City the style has become more polished and the social polemic is worked into the narrative in a more subtle way. A good example of this disciplined style is Arctic Chill, where discussion, information and reflections on the social status of immigrants in Iceland is smoothly introduced in small doses evenly spread throughout the narrative.
Many of the issues at stake in the novels relate to drugs and addiction and often this is somehow associated with Erlendur’s children. Sexual abuse and other types of violence are regular themes, appearing in Sons of Dust, Voices and Black Skies to name the most striking examples. Rape is the main subject of Outrage and also plays an important part in Jar City. This, however, was played down in the film adaptation. Domestic violence is the main subject in Silence of the Grave and issues relating to class distinctions and prejudice are a regular theme, starting in Sons of Dust where the school system is criticised for segregation.
The chilly everyday reality that surrounds the crimes in Arnaldur’s work is inseparable from the chilly setting of the stories. When winter ends, the white and blinding summer light besieges Erlendur and troubles him: “The damn midnight sun kept him awake long into the night. It seemed impossible to lock it out. Erlendur tried to isolate his bedroom from the light nights with heavy curtains but still the sun managed to slip in” (“Helvítis miðnætursólin hélt fyrir honum vöku langt frameftir öllu. Það var eins og ekkert dygði á hana. Erlendur reyndi að útiloka svefnherbergi sitt frá næturbirtunni með þykkum gluggatjöldum en henni tókst að smjúga framhjá þeim.”). Erlendur prefers the cold and darkness of the winter, and disappears into the white fog at the end of the book Hypothermia:
Erlendur stood by the derelict farm that had once been his home, looking up at Mount Harðskafi. It was difficult to see the mountain because of the icy fog that was sinking ever lower over the fjord. [...] After gazing at the mountain for a long time in solemn silence, he set off on foot, with a walking stick in his hand and a small pack on his back. He made quick progress, enfolded in the hush of nature now fallen into its winter sleep. Before long he had disappeared into the cold fog.
In this way Arnaldur plays with the two opposites of the Icelandic weather and seasons and condenses them into one, although the searing light is clearly a more fearful enemy to Erlendur than the cold fog. These surroundings of white desolation is a striking feature of Arnaldur’s work carrying with it ideas of purity: all of this endless white space creates a feeling of peacefulness and innocence. The contradiction is that in the midst of this peacefulness there are signs of violence, of bloody corpses.
Arnaldur uses this well in Strange Shores. Here Erlendur has returned to where he spent his childhood, still preoccupied by his brother’s disappearance but at the same time immersed in an investigation of yet another missing person case from this part of the country, where a woman died from exposure after being trapped in a blizzard many years before. Arnaldur allows himself to take some highly suitable mystic undertones a step further and catches many nuances of this isolated and scattered setting.
Using his main character, a lonely and somewhat isolated man, Arnaldur associating the crimes with cold and desolation with continual references to Erlendur’s past and the disappearance of his brother. As already pointed out, Erlendur is a friend of winter, almost a kind of Groke; at times it seems that everything gets colder around him. This setting is continually emphasised, such as in the chilly surroundings of Sons of Dust, the continual autumn rain in Jar City, the cold hotel room in Voices, the winter storm that breaks out as the solution to Arctic Chill is in sight, the lethal cold of the waters in Hypothermia and the increasing cold in Strange Shores. Even though Hypothermia actually takes place in the late summer, the novel is focused on the cold, both in the plot itself, and in the coldness that can reside in the human soul. The same applies to The Draining Lake.
There are clear indications that Erlendur dies at the end of Strange Shores. Still he does not disappear completely as already stated. He appears briefly at the end of The Great Match, a story set in 1972, when the world chess championship took place in Reykjavík. The novel starts by describing a young man’s visit to the cinema, providing an insight into the period: such clear and concise historical panoramas are one of the strengths of Arnaldur’s work. The amusement ends badly for the boy though, as he is found murdered at the end of the screening. His tape-recorder is missing as well. However, while this crime is being investigated the main focus is on the detective, Marion Briem. Beside the story of cold war and chess another history is depicted, the world of consumption. Marion had suffered from consumption as a child and while describing the illness the reader also gets to know Marion’s story and highly unusual family-situation.
In Reykjavík Nights Erlendur appears two years later, and is now the main character. The novel was advertised as ‘Erlendur’s first case’, and this much is true, even though he is not actually a detective yet. He is still in uniform and the investigation is all his own and is not particularly welcomed by the authorities. The reason for his insubordination is his ability to empathise, in this case with a homeless man who is found drowned in a shallow pool in the east part of Reykjavík. As before – and since – the urbanisation of Reykjavík forms an important part of the story. Erlendur moves around the city and its history, complete with references to its poets and their work. In addition the reader who knows Arnaldur’s work is invited to play her own game of detection by recognising characters and places from previous novels.
A missing person case is of course a part of the story, and again in Into Oblivion. Here the setting is a few years later, 1979, and Erlendur, now a young detective is working on a murder case with Marion Briem. On the side he is trying to figure out an unsolved case from 1953, when a young girl disappeared without a trace one fine morning on her way from the west part of town to Kvennaskólinn in the city centre. Her route took her past one of the old barracks camps, Kamp Knox, standing where now is the swimming pool Vesturbæjarlaug. The camps were the remains of the occupation in Iceland during World War II and in Into Oblivion the issue of the occuping American army is prevalent. Indeed the novel is to a considerable extent about the American army and its base in Iceland. Relations between soldiers and Icelanders is discussed, as is smuggling, popular music and of course the camp itself.
Erlendur’s character is the axis for the majority of Arnaldur’s work and is at the same time almost a symbol for the changes that have taken place in Icelandic society during and after the second world war. Arnaldur uses Erlendur to analyse the history of the past decades and how it appears in the present. Erlendur’s investigations and patience belong in many ways to the past, and this is emphasised in the slow, but mounting and insistent rhythm of the novels.
It is a well-known syndrome that authors tire of their main heroes, while readers continue to love them. Arthur Conan Doyle attempted to kill off Sherlock Holmes, and Hergé got nightmares about Tin Tin. Arnaldur’s way, to introduce Erlendur anew as a young man – who seems older than his years – is a clever ploy, and the readers can thus get a better understanding of how he becomes the man who later makes such a mark on Icelandic literary history.
Arnaldur’s novels are frequently historical in some way, as previously discussed. One of the themes that regularly pops up is the occupation and its effects upon Icelandic culture and history. The occupation and the continuing presence of the American army after the war were highly influential for Icelandic society, and in particular for Icelandic cultural history. The relationship between Icelanders and the army and the history of the occupation and the army base in the south-west part of the country has always been a complicated affair; this was made abundantly clear when the US army decided to pull back from its base in Iceland in 2006. Whatever opinion people have had on the occupation and later the base it is at least obvious that both became an important source of material for writers. Two highly influential novels attest to that, Gangvirkið (The Clockwork) by Ólafur Jóhann Sigurðsson and 79 af stöðinni (Taxi 79) by Indriði G. Þorsteinsson (Arnaldur‘s father), both published in 1955, a decade after the occupation ended. The two novels illustrate well how deep a mark the occupation left on Icelanders; in an article on the three army novels by Ólafur Jóhann Sigurðsson, literature scholar Daisy Neijmann talks about a traumatic break in historical continuity in relation to Gangvirkið, referring to the last words of the novel: “All that was left was emptiness and silence”. The novel ends on the day the occupying army arrives to Iceland.
Corruption and conspiracy related to the second world war is the subject of Operation Napoleon, while Codus Regius (2006) is about the impact of the war. Neither belongs to the Erlendur-series. In Occupation Napoleon an aeroplane emerges from a glacier after having been lost for decades. A few young men arrive on the scene and have an ‚accident‘. The sister of one of them starts looking into the accident and before she knows she is embroiled in a complex web of spies and secrets. The setting of Codus Regius is Copenhagen and Berlin soon after the second world war, where a young Icelandic student is drawn into a case involving a missing manuscript and Nazi ideas of the superiority of the nordic race. Cold war espionage is the subject of The Draining Lake, where the narrative is split in time, between now and the cold war years. A similar split is found in Silence of the Grave, where the story partly takes place during the occupation.
The occupation period in Reykjavík formes the background of a new series by Arnaldur, starting with Skuggasund (The Shadow District) in 2013. Here he introduces a new team of police, and again the story is split in time. During the war the body of a young girl is found behind the National Theatre and in the present the innocuous death of an old man turnes out to be a murder. As before, the novel is carefully constructed and Arnaldur creates an impressive panorama of Reykjavík during these tumultous times. In addition he tells the story of one of the oldest districs in Reykjavík, Skuggahverfið (the shadow district), which has undergone radical changes in the past two decades.
In Þýska húsið (The German House, 2015) two of the period characters of The Shadow District reappear, the Canadian-Icelandic MP Thorson, and the Icelandic detective Flóvent. Here they are investigating the brutal murder of a travelling salesman. As before emphasis is placed on creating the historical setting of the years of the occupation, describing the effects it had on people and society, in addition to building an image of cultural history of Reykjavík during this time, complete with references to Icelandic Nazi sympathisers. Arnaldur also refers to his first novel, Sons of Earth, as both works have to do with experiments on young boys without their knowledge. Here the ideology of Nazism is the dark force, while the dark deeds in Sons of Dust are carried out in the name of wealth and science, as well as a desire for immortality.
In her analysis of the Arnaldur’s writings on ‘the situation’ during the occupation, Daisy Neijmann has pointed out a marked difference from the (negative) image presented in previous Icelandic novels’ description of the postwar-years. The ‘situation’ refers to the relations between Icelandic women and English and American soldiers, something that was generally condemned by authorities and the public. Daisy points out how Arnaldur shows the ‘situation-woman’ in a new light, using the women in Silence of the Grave and The Shadow District as examples. The former is a victim of domestic abuse and is – at least for a while – saved by an American soldier; the latter is murdered by an Icelandic bigwig who is in the habit of treating women badly. In addition to this the condemnation of women who had affairs with American soldiers is described in harsh terms.
This sympathy with the ‘situation-women’ is also apparent in the third book of this new series, Petsamo (2016). As before, Arnaldur is keen on examining the history of these precarious times. A ‘loose’ woman disappears and a young man is found dead, having been brutally treated. The story involves wartime espionage and betrayals, where a young student in Copenhagen gets involved with the resistance and is arrested. His fiancée is one of the passengers on the highly unusual Petsamo-journey (1940), where Icelanders stranded in Europe had the opportunity to sail to Iceland with special leave from the warring parties. Rumour had it that a spy for the Germans was aboard and Arnaldur uses that story in his novel. Petsamo also describes the class-division in Reykjavík and the reasons many women had to make use of the ‘situation’. And not only women, for men also partook in the ‘situation’, even though that part of history has generally been given less attention.
Arnaldur Indriðason is a notable author in the history of Icelandic literary history. He has managed to create a wave of Icelandic crime fiction and instate Icelandic crime fiction as an acknowledged and popular literary genre. This, in turn, has expanded to include other literary genres, such as fantasy, which until recently had been mostly nonexistent. In addition the international popularity of Arnaldur’s novels has increased general interest in Icelandic literature – and Iceland itself. This does not in any way reflect negatively on other Icelandic works which have gained recognition abroad, it is simply a fact that the great popularity of Arnaldur’s work has had a lot to do with introducing the literary output of this tiny island-nation, providing it with space in book-festivals and markets. Lastly, it must be stressed that Arnaldur is first and foremost an exceptionally good crime fiction writer, who uses the form effectively to tell the history of Reykjavík, emphasising the myriad forms and disputes that are found within Icelandic urban culture.
Úlfhildur Dagsdóttir, 2017
This article is mainly based on an earlier profile on Arnaldur Indriðason’s work, printed in the Icelandic literary journal Tímarit Máls og menningar 3:2011. I would like to thank the editor, Guðmundur Andri Thorsson, for insightful comments.
 Arnaldur Indriðason, Into Oblivion, transl. Victoria Cribb, New York, Picador 2007, p. 7.
 Arnaldur Indriðason, The Draining Lake, transl. Bernard Scudder, London, Vintage 2008 (2004/2007), p. 199.
 Arnaldur Indriðason, Synir duftsins, Reykjavík, Vaka-Helgafell 2003 (1997), p. 11. Transl. úd.
 Ibid, p. 75.
 Synir duftsins, p. 75. Transl. úd.
 Kristín Árnadóttir discusses police stories in her article “Hverra manna er Erlendur?” in Tímarit Máls og menningar, 1:2003, p. 50-56.
 One of Simenon’s novels shares a title with Arnaldur’s 2001 novel, Betty.
 Kristín Árnadóttir, “Hverra manna er Erlendur?”, p. 53.
 For a discussion on literary references in Arnaldur’s novels: Bergljót Soffía Kristjánsdóttir, “Á kálfskinnsfrakka eða Arnaldur Indriðason og bókmenntahefðin”, in Skírnir autumn 2010, p. 434-454.
 Arnaldur Indriðason, Dauðarósir, Reykjavík, Vaka-Helgafell 1998, p. 174. Transl. úd.
 Arnaldur Indriðason, Silence of the Grave, transl. Bernard Scudder, London, Vintage 2006 (2001/2005), p. 171.
 Arnaldur Indriðason, Hypothermia, transl. Victoria Cribb, London, Vintage 2010 (2007/2009), p. 314.
 Arnaldur Indriðason, Vetrarborgin, Reykjavík, Vaka-Helgafell 2006 (2005), p. 141.
 Kristín Árnadóttir emphasises this in her article “Hverra manna er Erlendur?”.
 Arnaldur Indriðason, Strange Shores, transl. Victoria Cribb, London, Vintage 2014, p. 7.
 Björn Ægir Norðfjörð discusses this in his article ““A Typical Icelandic Murder?” A ‘Criminal’ Adaptation of Jar City”, Journal of Scandinavian Cinema, 1:2011, p. 37-49.
 Arnaldur Indriðason, Dauðarósir, p. 13. Transl. úd.
 Arnaldur Indriðason, Hypothermia, p. 314.
 Daisy Neijmann, „Hringsól um dulinn kjarna“, Ritið 1:2012, p. 117-119.
 Daisy Neijmann discussed this in a talk in The City Library, 24 of February 2016: „Siðspilling og sóðaskapur, hildarleikur og huldumál: að skyggnast um eftir horfnum uppgangstímum í sögum Arnaldar Indriðasonar“. See also her article, „War and Crime in the Work of Arnaldur Indriðason” (link to PDF) in Tijdschrift voor Skandinavistiek 35.1 (2017).
Neijmann, Daisy L., ed. A History of Icelandic Literature.
University of Nebraska Press, 2007, p. 458
Tosic, J. "The land of the midnight sun."
Calgary Public Library - Reader´s Nook
On individual works
Mýrin (Tainted Blood)
Sigurdson, Helen: "Tainted blood: by Arnaldur Indriðason" (ritdómur)
The Icelandic Canadian 2006, 60. árg., 1. tbl. bls. 40-1.
Grafarþögn (Silence of the Grave)
Two stories unravel simultaneously with rapid shifts in point of view. ... The Lady in Green is a well-written thriller, lengthy, rich in material and a treat to read. The protagonists sparkle with life, and the background characters are colourful and memorable.
- Morgunbladid daily newspaper
Dense, tightly wrought and well edited, the structure and intertwining narrative treads are masterly thought out, and hold the reader''s attention until the very end. The story breaks out of the mould of traditional thrillers, by provideing a fine description of the mental and physical effects of violence, and vivid psychological portraits of its perpetrators and victims, while at the same time delving into the psyche of the investigator, and portraying two eras.
The tension streches to the very end. The main focus of this book is on domestic violence which is depicted with striking realism. ... The Lady in Green is an unusual detective story, gripping and exciting. Erlendur, Sigurdur Óli and Elínborg have become household names for Icelandic crime fiction aficionados and the publication of Arnaldur''s books are eagerly awaited every Christmas.
- DV daily newspaper
Mýrin (Jar City)
... a very effective plot; the story spins a thread, which connects sensitive matters; sexual crimes and the information society where the genetic mass of the individual has become the property of private firms.
- Nordic Literature
The plot is neither too daring nor too unrealistic and keeps the reader captivated from the first page. Jar City is a good detective story and the best that Indridason has written using these characters. He is well on his way to becoming Iceland''s foremost detective writer.
- DV daily newspaper
Indridason builds up excellent suspense and a complicated "who-dunnit" plot which is interesting and gripping... the web the author has created is very well woven.... character descriptions in the story are well constructed...
- Morgunbladid daily newspaper
Napóleonsskjölin (Operation Napoleon)
... a thriller in an international setting, the CIA is involved as well as old secrets from World War II. Indridason works on the tradition of the Swedish couple Sjöwall and Wahlöö who put forward a purposeful social criticism in their crime novels, while he is not as radical as they were. His novels also remind us of the hard-boiled American detective novel where corruption is often found in high places.
- Nordic Literature
2017 – The Drop of Blood, the Icelandic Crime Writers´ Award: Petsamo
2015 - Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres
2009 - The Barry Awards: The Draining Lake (Kleifarvatn), translated to English by Bernard Scudder
2008 - The Drop of Blood, the Icelandic Crime Writers´ Award: Harðskafi
2007 - Grand Prix des Lectrice de Elle (France): La Femme en Vert (Grafarþögn), translated to French by Eric Boury
2006 - Ouessant (France): La Femme en vert (Grafarþögn) translated to French by Eric Boury
2006 - Le Prix Mystère de la Critique (France): La Cité des Jarres (Mýrin), translated to French by Eric Boury. As the best translated crime novel of the year
2006 - Le Prix du Coeur Noir (France): La Cité des Jarres (Mýrin), translated to French by Eric Boury. As the best translated crime novel of the year
2005 - The Martin Beck Award (Sweden): Änglarösten (Röddin / The Voice), translated to Swedish by Ylva Hellerud. As the best translated crime novel in Sweden.
2005 - The Golden Dagger (UK): Silence of the Grave (Grafarþögn), translated to English by Bernard Scudder
2003 - The Glass Key; Crime Writers of Scandinavia: Grafarþögn (Silence of the Grave)
2002 - The Glass Key; Crime Writers of Scandinavia: Mýrin (Jar City)
2003 - Caliber (Sweden): Glasbruket (Mýrin), translated to Swedish by Ylva Hellerud
2009 - Macavity Awards: The Draining Lake (Kleifarvatn), translated to English by Bernard Scudder
2009 - CWA International Dagger: Arctic Chill (Vetrarborgin, translated by Bernard Scudder and Victoria Cribb)
2009 - Macavity Award (Mystery Readers International): The Draining Lake (Kleifarvatn) translated by Bernard Scudder
2006 - The Martin Beck Award (Sweden): Mannen i sjön (Kleifarvatn), translated to Swedish by Ylva Hellerud
2006 - The International IMPAC Dublin Award: Jar City (Mýrin), translated to English by Bernard Scudder
2005 - Kansas City Star (USA): Jar City (Mýrin), translated to English by Bernard Scudder. As one of 10 most noteworthy crime novels of the year
2005 - Grand Prix des Lectrices de Elle (France): La Cité des Jarres (Mýrin), translated to French by Eric Boury
2005 - Crimezone.nl (Netherlands): Engelenstem (Röddin), translated to Dutch by Paula Vermeidjen
2004 - Crimezone.nl (Netherlands): Moordkuil (Grafarþögn), translated to Dutch by Paula Vermeidjen
2004 - The Icelandic Literature Prize: Kleifarvatn (The Draining Lake)
2004 - The Martin Beck Award (in Sweden): Kvinna i grönt (Grafarþögn / Silence of the Grave). As the best translated crime novel of the year
2004 - The New Zealand Herald: Jar City (Mýrin), translated to English by Bernard Scudder. As one of the best crime novels of the year
2003 - The Martin Beck Award (Sweden): Glasbruket (Mýrin / Jar City). As the best translated crime novel
2003 - Crimezone.nl (Netherlands): Noorderveen (Mýrin), translated to Dutch by Paula Vermeidjen
2001 - DV Daily Newspaper Cultural Prize for literature (Iceland): Mýrin (Jar City)
2001 - The Icelandic Bookseller’s Award: Grafarþögn (Silence of the Grave)