Icelandic Crime Time (KH)


katharinahauptmann02_dlWe all know that Iceland is a through and through literature loving nation. Not only read Icelanders a lot, they also produce a lot of literary work.

The literacy rate here in Iceland is allegedly 100%, apparently Icelanders read the most books per capita in the world.

Especially in my native country Germany Icelandic literature is much appreciated.

Well, let's be honest- Germans are crazy about Icelandic books!

Personally, I love crime novels and thrillers, and Iceland's book market has so much to offer.

The most famous crime novelist from Iceland is certainly Arnaldur Indriðason.

Arnaldur's (b.1961) first book, Synir duftsins (“Sons of Dust”) came out in 1997 and marked the beginning of the popular series with Detective Erlendur. As of 2011, the series includes 12 thrilling novels.

Arnaldur's books have become a major success and won many awards. The stories about Detective Erlendur have become the export hit of the Icelandic literary world, published in over 26 countries and translated into at least 20 languages.

Definitely worth reading!

Another internationally known author is Yrsa Sigurðardóttir.

The Reykjavík born writer (b. 1963) works both as civil engineer and crime novelist. After writing children's books, Yrsa turned to a darker genre and published her first murder mystery novel Þriðja táknið (“Last Rituals”) in 2005. This was the kick off for Yrsa's successful series evolving around the investigative lawyer Þóra Guðmundsdóttir. The author's latest work, Ég man þig (“Blessed are the Children”) from 2010, is her first thriller where Þóra is not in the picture.

My first Icelandic crime novel was a German translation of Yrsa's debut work Þriðja táknið and got me hooked on this series.

Þráinn Bertelsson (b. 1944) is a multi-media multi-talent.

How Þráinn finds the time to write novels while being a renowned film maker, journalist, radio host, newspaper editor and politician is a mystery to me.

But thinking about it, all these occupations are certainly a never ending source of inspiration.

As of today, Þráinn has published three darkly comic crime novels, Dauðans óvissi tími (“Death's Uncertain Hour, 2004), Valkyrjur (“Valkyries”, 2005) and Englar dauðans (“Angels of Death”, 2007).

The 2012 film adaption of Stefán Máni's synonymous novel Svartur á leik (Black's Game, 2004) is causing huge excitement in Iceland at the moment. The brutal, dark story takes the reader deep into the belly of Reykjavik's underworld.

To date, Stefán Máni has published eight novels. One of them, Skipið (“The Ship”, 2006) was awarded with the Icelandic Crime Writer's Award, Blóðdropinn (“Drop of Blood”).

Critics highly praise Stefán's style as Tarantino-esque and raw.

Sounds like my kind of author.

I haven't read any of his books yet, but I'm planning on changing that as soon as possible.

There are so many more wonderful Icelandic authors of thrillers and crime novels that should at least be named such as Helgi Ingólfsson, Ólafur Haukur Símonarson, Páll Kristinn Pálsson, Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson, Árni Þórarinsson, Ævar Örn Jósepsson, Stella Blómkvist and Óttar Norðfjörð.

I cannot name them all but they are great!!

Thanks to the great international success more and more books are being translated from Icelandic into other languages so the magnificent work of Icelandic writers becomes accessible to a broader audience.

Until then, we just have to be patient.

Check out this fantastic website about Icelandic literature. There you will find useful information about contemporary Icelandic crime novelists (and of course also about other genres) and their work.

Most of the books mentioned here can be purchased on

By the way, Iceland's homicide rate is one of the lowest in the world. I was told the number of murder victims per year is around five to ten.

So be at ease and come to Iceland.

Katharina Hauptmann – [email protected]

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.