I am brought out of my musings by Jóa, who produces a plastic bag from the roadside café in Varmahlíd. She takes from it two small chocolate eggs and offers me one.
“It’s a bit early, isn’t it? A week before Easter. Aren’t they for Easter Sunday?”
“That’s so last century,” answers Jóa like a continuation of my thoughts at the wheel. “Now everything is allowed, always.”
Back in 2008, I posted a reading report on an Icelandic play called “The Wish,” by Johann Sigurjonsson. It’s a drama about a young man who throws his life away in pursuit of power and self-gratification in magic. Oddly enough, that play (under an alternate title, “Loftur the Sorcerer”) is at the heart of a mystery novel I just read, Season of the Witch by Arni Thorarinsson. I’ve been dipping into Scandinavian mystery novels for a while now, and as often as not haven’t been much impressed. Season of the Witch, I’m glad to report, pleased me quite a lot.
Einar (I’m not sure if his last name is ever given. Can’t find it) is a recovering alcoholic and a reporter for an Icelandic newspaper. He used to cover crime in Reykjavik, but a recent management shake-up sent him up to the small northern town of Akureyri. Here, along with a couple of colleagues sent into exile with him, he’s reduced to reporting on petty crime and local politics, and asking “Questions of the Day” to people on the street. He hates it. He also hates his local editor. He’s attracted to the female photographer who is the third exile, but she turns out to be unavailable. Also he’s separated from his daughter, the only person he really cares about.
But then things start happening. The wife of a local industrialist is killed in a kayaking accident, and her old mother insists she was murdered. Then a popular high school student who was to star in a school production of “Loftur the Sorcerer” is found murdered in a junk yard. There are rumors of drug dealing, and tensions rise between native Icelanders and immigrants (this book was written back before the Icelandic financial crash).
Einar isn’t the kind to settle for easy answers. He keeps poking at the evidence after everyone else is satisfied.
But he does more than that. Einar also acts as a dispenser of grace. He performs kindnesses for people he doesn’t like, and covers up evidence in cases where the law would only add to the tragedies.
Not at all a Christian novel, Season of the Witch is a Christ-haunted novel. Einar walks in a culture full of the old landmarks of the Faith, and the absence of faith is always conspicuous in his mind. Without offering specific answers – aside from allusions to Jesus and to the Christian play “Loftur the Sorcerer” – this story asks all the right questions.
Cautions for rough language, adult situations, and earthy humor. I liked the book, and I especially liked the hero Einar. Recommended.