Arnaldur Indridason’s The Darkness Knows is a fascinating example of the Icelandic detective story. Starring a retired police detective named Konrad, an old man with unsolved cases under his belt and a fractured history, this volume by it’s very nature digs into the past.
In a wonderful opening, the readers see a group of tourists on a glacier, who seem to be enjoying themselves right up until one discovers a face peeking out from the ice. This turns out to be the body of a man named Sigurvin, a missing person from thirty years earlier whom Konrad had been investigating back in the day. The discovery of this, combined with the dying state of the chief suspect, leaves a new rush of mystery.
The stakes for this case seem relatively low to start. There are reputations and desires to solve it at stake, yes, but on top of this come increasing looks at a past, and the decades have made Konrad and those involved see the crime, and several others that look like they might be connected, in an increasingly complicated mixture.
The inclusion of a probably crooked, or at least corrupt, officer of the police is appreciated. While the force overall is depicted as competent, protecting corrupt or incompetent officers is shown to be the norm.
Konrad is an interesting lead. A former cop with noticeable weakness in one arm, a congenital issue, who is noticing the sameness of retirement. Though he is a retired officer with a somewhat checkered history, but any evidence of real moral failing seems to come in his personal history rather than the professional. The man is also a father and grandfather alike, seeing and enjoying it in his way. It is a nice detail, given how many detectives are without families, to make this one a family man with a share of losses and scars.
Other characters are, in spite of the third person narrative, largely filter through Konrad’s point of view. The former cops largely range from unhelpful to incompetent, while the involved parties in the case each seemed tired more than any other emotion for much of their testimony. The descriptions are solid, and the mood is easy to understand with each character.
There is an eye to a series in this volume, and overall it isn’t a bad take. The lead is morally grey yet still compelling, and finding that last element is a key to a running detective series. Konrad has a long history and a family, both of which would lend to further exploration.
Overall a very good read, one that will doubtlessly entertain existing fans of Nordic noir, Icelandic detective stories, and grizzled old detectives. The cold case is one that manages to steadily engross the reader, and the ways it intrudes upon the present are believable.