Yrsa’s Dark Days

The Day Is Dark is Yrsa Sigurdardóttir´s fourth novel for adults.

Once again, Thóra Gudmundsdóttir, the detective caught up in the life of being a lawyer, is the protagonist. Trapped in a four person law firm, dealing with the petty disputes of people getting divorced after making bad decisions about getting married, the reader finds her bored, wishing for something more exciting or important to deal with. The firm has added two young lawyers but Thora has no faith in them since they seem to be more interested in YouTube than Supreme Court Judgements. She´s still burdened with Bella, the secretary from hell.  

Her German boyfriend, Matthew Reich, has moved to Iceland and got a job as head of security for Kaupthing Bank. He triggers the action by calling Thóra and asking if she´d be willing to travel with him and a team to Greenland. Her role will be to protect the bank from having to pay a peformance bond for a company called Berg Technology that has signed to perform exploration work for a British mining company. If Berg doesn´t have solid legal reasons not to meet its contract, the bank will have to pay the British company.

The trip to the mine site and the investigation sound boring. However, it turns out that two mine employees are missing and six months previous another mine employee disappeared. The result is that the remaining employees have all returned to Iceland. None of them will return to complete the job.

Matthew is going, it´s a break from prenuptial and divorce agreements so Thóra rather impulsively decides to go but, Thóra being Thóra, she gets drunk with a friend before packing and takes the most improbable clothes with her for a visit to an isolated mining camp.

One of the charms of Yrsa´s novels with Thóra is Thóra´s hopelessly scattered life. Her son Gylfi, when he was sixteen, has got a girlfriend, Sigga, pregnant. The boy, Orri, that is born as a result is now two. The three of them are living with Thóra along with her daughter, Sóley.

The cleverness of Yrsa´s novels are two fold. One, a lot of seemingly unimportant, unrelated detail at the beginning, ends up critically important by the end, not just as plot points but in creating an understanding of people´s lives. The emphasis in this novel on relationships forms a web that exposes character but also provides motivation. Some relationships, it turns out, are not resolved with divorce agreements. The other, and this is seen in her previous novels, is her use of local folklore as inflection points within the novel. The folklore seems irrelevant but by the end of the novel is revealed to be critically relevant.

In the continuing cast of characters is Bella, the secretary from hell. In this novel, she goes with the team but, as a fan of Yrsa´s novels, I had hoped that she would have a greater role in the story. She´s a minor character but Thóras inabiltiy to get along with Bella while Matthew gets along with her famously sets up a dynamic filled with potential for both drama and, more likely, humour.

I enjoyed this novel. I have grown familiar with the characters. I enjoyed getting to know them better. If I had any disappointment it was Matthew living in Iceland and becoming more of a domestic character. In previous novels, his lack of Icelandic was used to humorous effect. His serious German nature played off Thóra´s constantly disintegrating personal life. Because Thóra is away from Reykjavik, her only contact with her family is by phone. That is a loss because it is the wackiness of her family life that has enlivened previous novels.

I think that some of the time in the mining camp moves slowly. The characters seem to overreact to what is a short amount of isolation and the potential for the kind of serious conflict that can arise in isolated living situations is not exploited.

The translation is good but choices of words sometimes caught me by surprise, as if I was hearingt two people, one American, and one English telling the story. It didn´t happen very often and none of the words were incorrect. They just seemed to come from a different voice. The gave me a nano-second’s pause.

However, my qualms are realy quibbles.  The revelation of the mystery at the end, not so much the solving of the crime, but the solving of the tragedy of the local village, was satisfying and made me say to myself, “Of course!”

This is a book worth buying and worth reading. I read it on a Kindle, in the ferry parking lot, on the ferry to the mainland, in a hotel room, on the returning ferry, at home. The Kindle is certainly convenient and it is nice to have a library at hand for times when I have to wait. However, I don´t find it as satisfying as reading an actual book. I like to make notes in the margins, underline, put sticky papers in places. You can now do all these things on an electronic copy but I don´t get the same satisfaction as when I do it with a book. That, of course, may have something to do with my age. Suit yourself, buy it on paper or on an electronic reader but, if you enjoy, murder mysteries, buy The Day Is Dark.