On the Edge of the Arctic Landscape in Icelandic Crime Fiction

This article was previously published in Issue 20, ISLANDS (March 2019).


Stranded in the North Atlantic and battered by harsh winds and volcanic eruptions, the bleak shores of Iceland loom large in contemporary crime fiction. Despite its diminutive population, which is settled sparsely over much of the small island nation, Iceland has produced a remarkable number of crime novels, reflecting the larger explosion of Nordic crime fiction across an international market. While the cold and dreary landscapes of many Nordic countries provide a suitably bleak backdrop for plots that always revolve around a murder, the narratives that emerge from Iceland demonstrate an especially close reliance on the landscape as a plot device, rooting the events of the novels firmly in the topography of the island. The key role played by landscape in Icelandic crime fiction can be situated against the historical backdrop of the nineteenth-century nationalist movement, which established an inseparable link between landscape and national identity, facilitated by the medieval Icelandic sagas. Despite the abatement of nation-building fervour, contemporary crime fiction has inherited the prominence accorded to landscape present in both the reception of the medieval sagas and the cultural production of the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, lending these works a distinctive identity in a largely formulaic genre.

Illustration by Grace MacKeith