At first, SUN ON FIRE by Viktor Aranar Ingolfsson seems to be the type of mystery that is used as a gimmick at a theater party as everyone becomes one of the characters in the storyline. Guests are left to determine which of the characters is guilty of murder, and slowly as the narrative unfolds characters are eliminated as suspects. However, in the case of Ingolfsson’s book the mundane approach just described explodes into a real life “who dun it” as certain characters reveal further information that reflect the complexity of past events in their lives. The two detectives who are the center of the investigation; Bikir Li Hinriksson, a refugee who survived the Vietnam War; and Gunnar Mariuson, who still lives with his mother and spends most of the novel on crutches, are interesting characters in their own right as they try and piece together the evidence and solve the murder of Anton Eriksson, an import export business type who deals in Asian slave labor and also happens to be a pedophile.
What attracted me to the author was my interest in foreign mysteries, particularly those taking place in Scandinavia. Since the author is Icelandic and the book’s plot centered on investigators and protagonists in the Reykjavik area it fit right into my area of interest. The story begins in the Icelandic embassy in Berlin on a Sunday afternoon when the Icelandic ambassador to Germany, Konrad Bjornsson hosts a gathering of eight people and at the end of the day one of them is murdered in the ambassador’s study. Two Icelandic detectives are sent to Berlin to investigate the murder and the “game” is on.
The action soon shifts to the Reykjavik area of Iceland where the plot grows increasingly complex. Ingolfsson’s writing is clear and precise reflecting a strong translation by Bjorg Arnadottir and Andrew Cauthery, who capture the sarcasm and cynicism that often appears nicely. I enjoy the author’s approach as he only uses the first names of his characters once their identification has been established and provides their personal history enhancing the depth of the story. At the outset, the suspects for the murder include a ceramicist and his helper, a gay couple involved in the fashion industry, an artist dying of cancer who as a nine year old was sexually abused by the murder victim, and a nationally known poet and his companion. What emerges is a past that has a tremendous influence on the crime, a hippie commune where many of the suspects had lived in the 1970s, and a number of other characters, including a diplomat and a police chief who were also involved with the commune. It all makes for a story that has unique twists and turns, and the final resolution of the case leads to two other crimes that will keep the reader totally involved. Overall I would characterize the author’s approach as an Icelandic version of the Swedish writer Henning Mankell, reflecting how successful the novel is.