A commie plot
The Draining Lake
Arnaldur Indridason Harvill Secker, 400pp, £11.99
When a skeleton is discovered in a lake outside Reykjavik, Inspector Erlendur is called in to investigate a far-reaching murder case. A clue is that the skeleton is tied to a Soviet radio transmitter. The story jumps back to 1950s East Germany, where a group of young Icelandic communists are studying at the University of Leipzig. Having arrived with high expectations, several of the students realise that this supposed socialist paradise is kept running through indoctrination and informants. As the regime becomes more paranoid about the dissent in Hungary, some of the Icelanders find themselves ensnared by the Stasi.
Moving between 1950s Leipzig and contemporary Iceland, the teasing narrative makes it clear that the students and the skeleton are somehow linked. But the connection is far from obvious for Erlendur and his colleagues, who, with the transmitter as their starting point, reconstruct a secret history of spying in Iceland and learn the embarrassing truth behind a 40-year-old murder.
Arnaldur Indridason skilfully hides the identity of both the victim and the killer until the very end. More than this, though, he manages to make a Cold War tale ring with contemporary relevance, as surveillance, misinformation and distrust extract brutal tolls from his characters’ lives.