Review by Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir, photo courtesy of Forlagid.
Shortly before daybreak in the remote Icelandic countryside, a goose hunter lies in hiding with his dog, waiting for a flock of geese to appear. He waits in anticipation as the birds begin circling near his hiding place, preparing to land, when all of the sudden something seems to frighten them and they fly away.
The goose hunter then hears a shot and one of his fake geese, used to attract the birds, is hit. Startled, the man suspects that another hunter has entered his hunting grounds without permission and tries to make himself noticed.
The man’s shouts and signals are answered with further shots, coming his direction, but only after his dog is shot dead, does the man realize that a killer is after him. The goose hunter does his best to defend himself, but his efforts are in vain and he ends up slain on his own hunting grounds.
So begins Afturelding, or Daybreak (also known as Aftershock), by Icelandic crime writer and civil engineer Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson.
Despite lackluster descriptions, some bland characters and a few loose threads, Ingólfsson manages to paint a colorful background and weave an exciting plot, one that leaves the reader puzzled and hungry for more.
While at it, the writer taps into some of the major issues that modern Icelandic society is facing, immigration, same-sex relationships, the power of the rich and poverty-stricken farmers. However, what really drives this story are the basic human instincts, love, sex, jealousy, hate, and above all, the thrill of the hunt.
With short chapters marked with the date and time, clear descriptions of each character and many conversations, Daybreak reads like a movie script, and earlier this year, a four-episode television series based on the book by director Björn B. Björnsson, Mannaveidar (I Hunt Men), was aired on national broadcaster RÚV.
The television program was faithful to the book’s plot apart from a few minor details and the fact that one of the main characters, detective Birkir Li Hinriksson, is played by Gísli Örn Gardarsson but not by an Asian actor. In the book, Hinriksson came to Iceland as a child refugee from Vietnam.
Both detective Hinriksson and his colleague, detective Gunnar Maríuson, are interesting characters. They are both loners yet very different: Hinriksson as an organized perfectionist who is addicted to ironing his pants and jogging, and Maríuson as an overweight slob who lives with his elderly German mother and finds it hard to get through the day without a beer and schnapps.
The serial killer they are chasing, who they nickname Steggurinn, or Gander—and whose real identity isn’t revealed until the very end—is, however, the most interesting character in the book with his sick and twisted personality.
There are some interesting side characters as well, like Maríuson’s quirky drinking partner, an author who continuously dismisses the investigation as unrealistic and Maríuson and his colleague as unfit characters for a crime novel.
Other characters are less interesting and not deserving of lengthy descriptions, like the head of the police department, who seems to have no real influence on the investigation.
All in all, Daybreak is a fairly good read, no masterpiece, but a good choice for killing time on a lazy afternoon.
Ingólfsson’s first novel, Daudasök (Capital Offence), was published in 1978. Two of his subsequent novels, Engin Spor (No Trace) and Flateyjargáta (Flatey Mystery), were nominated for the Glass Key Award of the Crime Writers of Scandinavia in 2001 and 2004.
Daybreak was originally published by Mál og menning in Iceland in 2005. In 2006, the novel was released in Germany as Bevor der Morgen graut and reissued in paper back by Bertelsmann in 2007.
Although the book has not yet been translated to English, I Hunt Men, the television mini-series based on the book, has been released on DVD with English subtitles by Reykjavík Films. (Contact Reykjavík Films for questions on availability).
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Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir graduated with a Bachelors degree in communication studies from the University of Erfurt, Germany, in 2004. In 2006, she graduated with a Masters degree in journalism from the University of Westminster, London. She has worked as the web editor for Iceland Review since October 2006. Eygló received an award for her entries in a nationwide short story competition in 1997, 1998 and 1999.