The Day is Dark by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir is the fourth mystery featuring attorney Thóra Gudmundsdóttir (available February 26, 2013).
At an author event in the spring of 2012, Yrsa Sigurdardóttir was talking about the power of place for an author working on a mystery novel. The place in question was Greenland, which she had visited only briefly—but long enough to gather inspiration for a new book. “I looked at the sled dogs and I asked, ‘What would happen if you put a dead body in front of those dogs? Would they eat it?’” she recalled.
I came away from the event with two thoughts: 1) be very careful if you travel with a crime fiction author; and 2) keep an eye out for Yrsa’s next book. That book is The Day is Dark, and it is indeed set in Greenland, perhaps the only inhabited place on earth that Icelanders would consider too darned cold, dark, and inhospitable to live in.
Fans of Yrsa’s previous books will know that Greenland is absolutely not the place for main character attorney Thóra Gudmundsdóttir to be spending any time. She’s Icelandic, but Thóra is hardly the rugged outdoors type. Yet she is always game for a challenging case—and this one’s lucrative to boot. So, if it means traveling to Greenland to investigate a potential breach of contract on a mining project, so be it. At least she’ll be traveling with her handsome banker boyfriend Matthew Reich.
The country looked very unwelcoming. It was covered with snow except in a few places where the mountainsides were too steep for it to settle… Icebergs were floating everywhere off the coast and the overriding impression was that the land was being ground into pieces and driven out into the sea. The jaggedness of the coastline did nothing to diminish this effect. The same went for the interior: there were no level areas, and the mountain peaks were innumerable. …
“Has the pilot got confused and taken us to the North Pole?” Thóra asked Matthew… “No one could possibly be living down there.”
He leaned toward the window and looked slightly shaken when he turned back to her. “It looks worse from such a great height,” he said…. “I’m sure it will look better when we land.”
Things don’t look any better on the ground of course. The group with Thóra and Matthew includes a couple of reluctant mining company employees and Bella, Thóra’s surly secretary. They must figure out why the entire crew on the mining project has pulled up stakes, gone home to Iceland, and refused to return to the job site. The answer—no surprise—has to do with the growing number of missing-presumed-dead employees on the job. People just seem to wander off into the night and are never heard from again. It’s the sort of thing that will spook even the most levelheaded person, especially when the locals insist that the job site is cursed and their beliefs appear to be based on more than superstition.
“Do you know, for example, what the name of that miserable little town over there means?” asked Bella.
“Kaanneq? said Thóra in an inquisitive tone. “I would hazard a guess at the ends of the earth or something along those lines. It would at least be fitting.”
“No, it means hunger,” said Bella, as she reached for the packet of cornflakes. “The story goes that the first settlers there all starved to death. Maybe that’s what happened here?”
There are many layers to the explanation of what went on at the mining site, what happened to the missing employees and, most importantly, why the locals steer way clear of the area. As always, however, it’s the little bits of knowledge and the uncommon characters, such as Igimaq the Greenlandic hunter, that Yrsa weaves into her books to make them so distinctive.
…it simply ran contrary to [Igimaq’s] character and upbringing to argue or get worked up. It was an ancient custom; those who lived together in small groups could not afford discord… The only way to express one’s disapproval was to remain silent, because words spoken in anger had a way of snowballing, intensifying and provoking hostility that would eventually put the survival of the entire community at risk. The Greenlandic language was thus free of invective and Igimaq was not about to start swearing in Danish.
It’s unlikely that many of us will visit Greenland. So Yrsa Sigurdardóttir has done it for us, and the story she began plotting there is a complex tale indeed.
Leslie Gilbert Elman is the author of Weird But True: 200 Astounding, Outrageous, and Totally Off the Wall Facts. Follow her on Twitter @leslieelman.
Read all of Leslie Gilbert Elman’s posts for Criminal Element.