Crime novel puts an Icelandic lawyer in Greenland

The Day is Dark

The Day is Dark

By Yrsa Sigurðardóttir. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2012. 421 pages. ISBN: 9781848945760.

The front cover of my copy of The Day is Dark by Icelandic crime writer Yrsa Sigurðardóttir sports a blurb from a review that appeared in the Daily Telegraph, a British newspaper. “Iceland’s answer to Stieg Larsson,” it says, referring to the late Swedish author of the Millennium trilogy.

Hardly. The Telegraph’s blurb comes from a 2010 profile of Sigurðardóttir. For one, Larsson’s novels have been way more successful than the Icelandic writer’s — so far. Also, Larsson’s Sweden, as depicted in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and its two sequels, is a dark place where right-wing extremists, rapists and murderers hide. For me, Icelandic crime writer Arnaldur Indriðason more fits with Larsson.

But Sigurðardóttir should not be ignored.

The Day is Dark is the fourth of a series of crime novels featuring Thóra Gudmundsdóttir, a lawyer in Reykjavík whose job in a legal firm is usually filled with the mundanities of bankruptcies, divorces and other civil matters. But then her boyfriend asks for counsel on a matter involving his bank and an engineering company that has been doing exploratory drilling in eastern Greenland. Workers have left the drilling camp and refuse to return in part because three of their colleagues have gone missing.

Gudmundsdóttir, her boyfriend and a team of experts arrive at the camp and soon find the mystery of the dead employees deepening. Folk beliefs, chilly relationships with the residents of the nearby village, and the Spanish Flu all come to play a part in the story. Because of that last bit, reading The Day is Dark during a pandemic created added interest in the novel.

Some reviews have given The Day is Dark lower marks than Sigurðardóttir’s previous Thóra Gudmundsdóttir novels. The story does run a bit slow at times, but that helps build psychological tension as the team attempts to unravel the cause of the deaths while longing to get back to the comforts of home.

The Day is Dark was my introduction to Sigurðardóttir’s work. I will be back for more, starting with Last Rituals, the first in the Thóra Gudmundsdóttir series. I’m always intrigued to see how characters develop over several novels. And perhaps I’ll come to agree that she is the Icelandic Larsson.

Yrsa Sigurðardóttir
Yrsa Sigurðardóttir is the best-selling author of The Day is Dark. (Photo by Lilja Birgisdóttir, courtesy of Salomonsson Agency)