Get Blog Posts Via Email

View RSS Feed


REYKJAVÍK by Ragnar Jónasson and Katrín Jakobsdóttir: Book Review

The disappearance of fifteen-year-old Lára Marteinsdóttir is a crime that remained unsolved for thirty years.  Fiercely independent, Lára persuaded her parents to let her take a summer job on the island of Videy, off the coast of Reykjavík.  Her cousin had worked there the previous summer at a cottage owned by Ólöf Blödal and her husband, Óttar Óskarsson, and she had had a good time.

At the time the novel opens in 1956, there are very few violent crimes and almost no murders in Iceland.  Thus when Lára didn’t call her parents at the usual time, they were at first only slightly concerned, but as the days went by they became worried, then frantic.  A young policeman, Kristján Kristjánsson, is sent to Videy to look around, but it’s obvious that the teenager isn’t there.

Óttar tells Kristján that Lára had told them, not long after she arrived, that she wanted to go home.  Although he and his wife were annoyed at her abrupt departure, he tells the police officer, they didn’t try to stop her, and so she took her luggage and headed for the harbor.

A phone call from Kristján’s supervisor while he’s at the cottage is a not-so-discreet reminder of the couple’s high status in Iceland.  Kristjánsson is told that they are not to be bothered any further, and the policeman leaves the island without any more information about Lára’s whereabouts.  He’s uneasy, but it’s been taken out of his hands.

And that’s the situation three decades later, in 1986.  As sometimes happens, however, various seemingly unrelated things come into play to bring about the solution to Iceland’s longest-running mystery.

Valur Róbertsson is a young journalist on the staff of the tabloid Vikubladid.  He has persuaded its editor, Dagbjartur Steinsson, to write a series of articles about Lára, her life and her disappearance.  Dagbjartur is reluctant at first but is won over when the first issue featuring a front page story about the missing teenager is the best-selling issue in the paper’s history, and the two subsequent issues sell out even more quickly.  Now Valur needs to finish the series with a big splash, the editor informs him.

Then Valur gets a phone call at work from a woman who won’t leave her name, and he can tell she’s calling from a phone booth to make certain she remains anonymous.  “It’s been a long time and the girl deserves better.”  She says she knows that Lára is dead, not missing, and it doesn’t matter how she knows.  “I just know she was killed.”  She says she’ll contact him again, then hangs up.

What brings about the beginning of the solution to Lára’s disappearance is the death of a man whose name was never even mentioned in connection with the missing girl.  When Finnur Stephensen, a wealthy businessman, lays dying in a Reykjávik hospital, his last words to his wife Thórdís are “Videy.  You have to go to Videy.”  Then he dies.

In their first collaboration, Ragnar Jónasson, the author of more than one dozen novels, and Katrín Jakobsdóttir, the prime minister of Iceland, have created a spellbinding mystery.  Their characters are alive, the plot keeps moving at a rapid pace, and the descriptions of Reykjavík and Icelandic society from 1956 to 1986 are wonderfully drawn.  Even though the novel begins nearly three-quarters of a century ago, the disappearance of a teenage girl is, unfortunately, as timely now as it was then.

You can read more about Ragnar Jónasson at this website and Katrín Jacobsdóttir at various sites on the internet.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.




Leave a Reply