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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Review of THE SEASON OF THE WITCH by Árni Thórarinsson

3 Stars 
Einar, a recovering alcoholic and former Reykjavík crime reporter, has been banished to Akureyri, but crime seems to have followed him.  A local woman falls overboard during a whitewater rafting corporate team-building exercise but the victim’s mother refuses to believe it was an accident.  Then the lead actor in a high school stage production about a sorcerer’s apprentice goes missing and is later found dead.  Einar begins investigating and soon thinks the two cases might be connected.

This is the fourth book in a series featuring Einar though it is the first to be translated into English.  The characterization of the protagonist and his relationships with his superiors at the newspaper hint at backstories probably developed in the earlier books.  Why not begin translating the beginning of a series?  (I encountered the same issues with Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole books.)

The novel is narrated in the first person by Einar.  He comes across as a likeable person despite his flaws.  His attitude to his superiors suggests he has problems with authority figures, although why he does is not explained.   What is also missing is self-reflection; instead, there is social commentary.  For instance, he focuses on Icelanders’ reactions to immigrant workers and the scourge of drug usage amongst young people. 

Part of what makes Einar likeable is his sense of humour.  There are several episodes that add comic relief.  In particular, Einar’s relationship with a parrot adds touches of light-heartedness throughout.  Not that there is a great deal of tension or suspense.  The plot meanders and there is very little sense of imminent danger.  So this book is not for those looking for a real thriller. 

There is considerable focus on the play which the students are performing.  Since I am unfamiliar with Loftur the Sorcerer, the tragedy written by Jóhann Sigurjónsson, I think I missed the significance of many of the references.  All I know is that the Faustian play, based on a popular Icelandic folktale, is about a student who sells his soul to the devil. 

This cannot be called a gripping mystery, but I found it charming and entertaining.  The fact that I visited Akureyri recently probably coloured my enjoyment of the book.  I will keep checking to see if more of the series is translated; I would definitely read them.  

Some Photos of Akureyri 
Akureyri, located about 100kms south of the Arctic Circle, is the biggest town outside of the capital region.
Approach to Akureyri from the east - thought we were going to drive directly into
Eyjafjörður.

Looking across Eyjafjörður towards Akureyri

Akureyrarkirkja