The Flatey Enigma (original title Flateyjargáta) is an intriguing and quite original Icelandic crime fiction novel by the very accomplished (but relatively unknown in the English-speaking countries) author Viktor Arnar Ingolfsson. The action in the book is set in 1960, when some islanders living on the small island of Flatey, on the west coast of Iceland, find a decomposing body while on a seal-hunting trip to the nearby island of Ketilsey.
Viktor Arnar Ingolfsson (see image on right), born in Akureyri in the north of Iceland on April 12, 1955, is one of Iceland’s most accomplished crime fiction authors. His novel House of Evidence was nominated for the Glass Key — the Nordic Crime Novel Award — in 2001, and The Flatey Enigma were nominated for the same prize in 2004. Viktor Arnar has published six mysteries, the fifth of which, Daybreak in 2005, was the basis for the Icelandic TV series Hunting Men, which premiered in 2008.
The principal character in The Flatey Enigma is a young man named Kjartan, who is just starting in a job as a magistrate’s assistant, and who is sent over from the mainland to supervise the collection of the body and to find the identity of the corpse. It is not quite clear whether there is any foul play involved or whether the death is the result of an accident.
However, when a second body is found on the little island with its less than three dozen inhabitants, there is little doubt that a crime has been committed: The body has been severely mutilated, and given a Viking “blood eagle” – a number of ribs on the back of the body have been cut loose from the spine and bent out to the side so they appear as small wings, and the lungs have been pulled out through the holes and spread out on the back of the body.
The deaths appear somehow to have some relationship to a very old mystery with origins in a famous Icelandic book of the Viking age; the early mediaeval Book of Flatey. More specifically, the murders seem to have some connection with a puzzle – an enigma – consisting of 40 questions, the first 39 of which must be correctly answered to reveal the 40th answer and the key to the mystery that has been constructed from the text.
The Flatey Enigma is an interesting, very evocative and very Scandinavian crime fiction novel. The descriptions of the life of the islanders and the functioning of the small island community far out in the Atlantic ocean is very fascinating in itself – it is, after all – most likely a way of life that is now forever gone. In addition, the book contains two very well constructed mysteries that are very compelling and puzzling. The characters are quite good too, and as the plot progresses we start to see that there is much more to them then what is visible at the beginning – and as we do, the plot thickens and the suspense builds. I liked this novel, and recommend it – The Flatey Enigma will keep you guessing!