black and red typewriter on white table

Katrín Jakobsdóttir’s Reykjavik Preview: Leadership and crime writing – a not so unlikely partnership

You’d imagine that leading a country as Prime Minister, especially through the recent upheavals of a global pandemic, would prove enough of a challenge for most people. But for Iceland’s Prime Minister, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, leading the Nordic country has also sat beside her penning her first crime novel, Reykjavík – a co-authorship with her friend and leading Icelandic writer Ragnar Jónasson.

Released in Iceland last year, the book has its English language release this week, a release that has seen renewed interested in the writing partnership, and how that works with political duties.

Of course, politicians writing is nothing new. Many former political leaders sign lucrative deals for their memoirs on leaving office and a few politicians have also written works while still in office. Indeed, Mid-Bedfordshire MP Nadine Dorries is nearly as famous for her books as she is her turbulent political career, and former British PM Boris Johnson was famously writing a much-delayed biography of Shakespeare in his time in office. Few, though, have managed to combine the pressure of political leadership and writing a novel at the same time. Bill Clinton worked with James Patterson to co-write two thrillers, The President is Missing and The President’s Daughter, though that was long after leaving The White House and few have done so while still in high office. It’s perhaps not surprising Jakobsdóttir has done so though. She graduated with a Masters in Icelandic literature, having penned her thesis on the legendary Icelandic Noir writer Arnaldur Indriðason. Graduation saw a career in journalism and education and, on entering the political world, served in roles including Minister for education, science, and culture.

On becoming Iceland’s second female Prime Minister in 2017, the pressures of office could easily suppress any chance of writing, but as Jakobsdóttir told the AFP news agency at the book’s Icelandic launch in 2022: “Every politician needs to have something to take his or her mind off the daily business of politics.”

Jakobsdóttir has described the process of writing as a form of therapy, a chance to escape the pressures of political office. She also told The Guardian newspaper, in a 2019 interview, that crime writing is the perfect preparation for political life; “They’re also about not really trusting anyone,” she said. “That’s generally how politics works.”

man skateboarding on city street
The Capital city of Reykjavk (Photo Credit: Benedetta Taddei)

For Reykjavík, the politician has teamed up with long-time friend and multi-million selling Icelandic author Ragnar Jónasson to pen a crime novel with an impressive 30-year span. Drawing in elements of Iceland’s own history, the titular capital’s 200th anniversary and its own political legacy as location for a pivotal Ronald Regan/Mikhail Gorbachev disarmament summit, the pair also weave in the traditional Nordic Noir fare of a complex disappearance and subsequent investigation.

Favourable reviews of the Icelandic publication compared the novel to the work of Queen of Crime Agatha Christie, not surprising since Jónasson has translated 14 Christie novels into Icelandic. With the release to the English market on 17 August, Reykjavík could mark the start of a new Icelandic Noir dynastic duo.

If the excitement of the forthcoming Reykjavík novel has whetted your appetite for Icelandic Noir, here’s five recommended (in no particular order) novels to set you on the path to this fascinating country.

Snowblind – Ragnar Jónasson It seems only right to begin the list with one of Reykjavík’s co-author’s works. The first in the six book Dark Iceland series. Set in Iceland’s most northerly town, Siglufjörur, Snowblind follows the transfer of detective Ari Thor to the town from the capital. A rookie 20-year-old, Thor needs to find his feet in a new town, full of dark secrets and wary of outsiders. A fascinating, twisting thriller that will have you reaching for the other five books in the series.

A Creak on The Stairs – Eva Björg Ægisdóttir Ægisdóttir’s debut novel, A Creak on the Stairs, takes place in her own small hometown, just half an hour from Reykjavik. Published in 2018 the novel has had huge international success and has become the first of the four-part (so far) Forbidden Iceland series.  A twisting, compelling murder mystery, much like Jonasson and Jakobsdóttir’s Reykjavík, A Creak on The Stairs unravels 30 years of deceit and denial.

My Soul to Take – Yrsa Sigurðardóttir From such a small population, Iceland has generated a higher-than-expected number of authors in the crime thriller genre, and a remarkable number of female authors. Yrsa Sigurðardóttir began her career as an engineer but is now one of Iceland’s biggest literary exports. Her first Thora Gudmundsdottir series book was published in English in 2007, but here we’re going to highlight the second book, My Soul To Take. Following a lawyer, balancing work with raising two children as a single mother, the novels give a fascinating look not only at the crimes but the impact on the personal lives of those who investigate them.

Snare – Lilja Sigurðardóttir Iceland’s capital city may seem a quiet, picturesque place for tourist, but for crime writers Reykjavik is a hot bed of murder, deceit, and darkness. In Lilja Sigurðardóttir’s Reykjavík Noir Trilogy the capital city becomes a character in its own right. Snare sees a city under the dust of the Eyjafjallajökull volcanic eruption as a cat and mouse hunt around drug smuggling playing out on the dark streets.

Jar City – Arnaldur Indriðason No list of Icelandic Noir would be complete with the inclusion of Arnaldur Indriðason – widely recognised as the father of Icelandic crime fiction. His Inspector Erlendur series of novels have become a defining, and must read, series of books for any Nordic Noir fan. Although adapted for the big screen, Jar City – the first book in the Erlendur series, rewards readers with a much deeper delve into the darker side of the capital city, again unravelling decades-old guarded secrets.

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