Monday, 5 May 2014

Season of the Witch: Arni Thorarinsson (Iceland)

When the editors at Reykjavik based The Afternoon News decide to expand the newspaper into northern Iceland with their crime writer Einar as its sole reporter on location the journalist feels as though he has stepped back in time. Compared to the hustle and bustle of the capital, where the nation’s economic and social crises rear their heads on a daily basis, the small town of Akureyri feels slow, quiet, and terribly old-fashioned.So it’s only fitting that one of Einar’s first assignments is to cover a college theatre production of Loftur the Sorcerer, an Icelandic folktale of ambition and greed. But that supposedly ancient history becomes ominously relevant when a local woman dies after falling overboard during a corporate boating retreat. All evidence indicates an accident, but when the victim’s mother cries foul play, kind hearted Einar agrees to investigate. Just days later, the lead actor in Loftur vanishes, leaving the locals reeling and Einar unconvinced that a single village could be so accident prone. Keenly perceptive and hungry for the truth, Einar begins to chip away at the quaint small-town fa├žade, uncovering a tangled web of power and greed that threatens to devour the historic community for good.

This was the second Icelandic book I have read this year, and I am sure will be just one of many more. Like others I have read, I spied this in a Reykjavik book store last year and looked it up on my return to see if it was available on Kindle. When it popped up on one of the regular monthly deals, it was too good to resist, and I was far from disappointed.

The book is set in the sleepy backwater of Iceland's second largest town Akureyri, where I shall very soon be heading myself. It is a town I have not visited for many years, so it was good to renew acquaintances. Einar, the narrator and lead character is a reporter for the Afternoon News who have recently opened an office in this town, and heads north to head up the team, where he soon makes waves. The death of a woman during a corporate bonding retreat and the death of a fledgling young actor may seem unconnected at first, but in such a small town there are no thing as coincidences, and Einar partly through boredom and partly through his own desire to uncover the truth and represent the community that he now works for, sets out to unravel if indeed there are any connections.

The book although an easy and pleasant enough read for me will no doubt leave those who unfamiliar with Iceland its deep family ties, not to mention the belief in witchcraft somewhat perplexed, but it is worth persevering with for its gentle humour and easy paced narrative. Personally I enjoyed this book, and will be looking for others written by the same author. I have no idea whether this is his first work or just the first that has been translated into English I very much suspect the latter for no one publishes their first novel, but I will be eagerly awaiting more from his pen.

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