Ice Cold: The Day is Dark, by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

by Peter

The Day is Dark, Yrsa SigurdardottirIcelandic crime fiction writer Yrsa Sigurdardottir is back with a new novel about Reykjavik lawyer Thóra Gudmundsdóttir. I am a fan of Icelandic crime fiction, and enjoy reading both Yrsa Sigurdardottir and Arnaldur Indridason. Indridason is more well-known internationally, but Sigurdardottir is getting better and better and is in the process of building a big fan base as well.

Yrsa’s protagonist, Thora, is a single mother, partner in a law firm in Reykjavik, and a very smart and resourceful lady. In The Day is Dark, she is offered a special case by her German banker boyfriend Matthew. His bank urgently needs to conduct an investigation into mysterious happenings in a distant place.

The mysterious place turns out to be Greenland: A mining camp in a distant location, close to a village of Greenlanders, established to assess mining possibilities. Three people working in the camp have gone missing and are assumed to be dead. Now the workers are scared and refuse to return to the camp. They don’t know what has happened to the missing people, and are afraid to go back there. It’s located on a spot with a bad reputation, considered to be evil and cursed by the Inuit.

When Thora, Matthew and the other members of the team get to the camp, it is deserted and vandalized. Their job is to find out why this has happened? Were the workers killed by somebody working there? Were they killed by the locals – who seem to strongly dislike the Icelandic presence? Was it a contagious disease? Or three mostly unrelated deaths due to the harsh natural conditions – had the workers lost their sense of direction in a storm, got lost, and frozen to death? Or are the deaths, as some seem to believe, caused by the malign spirit Tupilak?

Yrsa Sigurdardottir

Yrsa Sigurdardottir

The team thinks they are alone out there, in the freezing cold, far from civilization and without contact with the rest of the world. They are not. Watching them from a distance is the great Inuit hunter Igmaq, a man who is among the very few with the skills to survive on his own, without belonging to a community, under the extreme conditions on Greenland. He feels it is his duty to protect the souls of people long dead – sprits of people who have died childless who can haunt the living – who are now threatened by the Icelandic mining camp. He is also a father who has lost his only daughter.

The Day is Dark is very evocative. The setting of the novel is very interesting, and Yrsa Sigurdardottir provides intriguing observations on the social conditions on Greenland: the alcoholism, unemployment, the old versus modern beliefs, and how the old way of life is disappearing without anything real and meaningful to replace it (Peter Hoeg does an extremely good job of this in Smilla’s Sense of Snow). The mystery is intriguing as well, and the story is told in an interesting and suspenseful fashion. In my opinion the book is a little long-winded, but even so this is a very solid crime fiction novel and good entertainment. This is, in every way, an ice cold Icelandic thriller.

Praise for Yrsa Sigurdardottir:

“As with the other books in this series there is humour and warmth. Atmospheric, complex and compelling with an unexpected ending.” (www.shotsmag.co.uk)

“A chilling read, enhanced by Sigurdardottir’s taut plotting, realistic characters, and dry humour.” (Metro Crime Books of the Year, on ASHES TO DUST )

“..this novel is superior crime fiction, ably translated by Philip Roughton” – Eurocrime

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