Only days from retirement, Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdóttir is given the opportunity to choose one cold case to solve before she leaves. She immediately picks the case of a young Russian asylum seeker who was washed up dead on a lonely shore the year before.
This is a book that seems to take great pleasure in wallowing in all the misery and desolation that the author can conjure. I’d be hard-pressed to think of a detective in a Nordic Noir that has a more depressing backstory and leads a bleaker existence than Hulda, even though almost all of them are known for being morose and unhappy in general. Her personal life is just one tragedy after another, and the sexism and derision she has to face in her professional life are ever-present. On top of that, the investigation she conducts goes wrong in many different ways, and the way she concluded a different case comes back to haunt her, and to stay with the theme of the book, which apparently is to inflict as much pain on the protagonist as possible, the reason for many of the problems are Hulda’s good intentions that apparently always lead directly to the worst possible outcomes.
The lives of the asylum seekers Hulda investigates are of course not much fun either, and all this adds up to a truly dismal experience. That Hulda has a chance at a new relationship is about the only bright spot, and it is not nearly enough because I kept wondering when her love interest would turn out to be a psychopath; it just seemed certain that it would happen. I also have to mention the ending, and to say it is surprising is definitely an understatement. I don’t think that anyone could have foreseen what happens, and unfortunately, this is not a good thing. The book is soaked in misery just for the sake of it, and the ending is the way it is just to be shocking and different. It’s a stunt. There are ways to end a crime novel that break with convention, but this should never be one of them.
Iceland is known for its bleak and stark landscapes which mirror the desolation of this story, but on the other hand, it is also famous for its fascinating beauty that inspires joy and wonder, and some of that was desperately needed here to offset the darkness. Ultimately, I struggle to find many positives, and the longer I think about the book, the angrier I get. Since I am not in the habit of making myself miserable needlessly, I’ll forgo reading the second entry in the series.
CBR12 Bingo: Fresh Start