Season of the Witch
by Arni Thorarinsson
translated by Anna Yates
Amazon Crossing, 2012
first published in Iceland as Tími nornarinnar (The Witching Hour), 2005
Einar, a journalist with the Afternoon News, is posted to Akureyri in the north of Iceland to boost the paper’s regional coverage. He is fed up at having to leave Reykjavík for this backwater, not least because it separates him from his 14-year-old daughter. Nevertheless, he determines to make the best of it, helped by photographer Joa but hindered by office manager Asbjorg, with whom Einar does not get along.
The book begins at a fast pace, with Einar reporting on a story that interests him: the case of a woman who drowned while on a white-water-rafting team building exercise. His Reykjavik bosses, however, send him on assignment even further north to investigate what they think to be cases of racist-inspired brawling, due to the large influx of foreign workers on the multinational construction sites being developed everywhere. Then, a teenage boy who is putting on a production of a traditional Icelandic play goes missing, later to be found dead. Einar had interviewed the boy previously about his production, and is curious about what happened to him, even though any details are hard to obtain.
Einar makes peace with Asbjorg in order to get an “in” with the police, while at the same time dealing with his obnoxious news editor, and their mutual corporate henchman boss, who want him to spend more time on trivial stories than on investigative journalism. By his persistence in befriending relatives and those who knew the two people who have died, Einar gets gradually closer to the truth.
There is a lot to like in Season of the Witch, whose title refers to a 1960s song by Donovan: the mystery is solid, the Icelandic setting well-conveyed, and the characterisation more rounded than a typical crime novel. The mother of the drowned woman, now living in a care home, is a particularly well-observed creation, as is Einar’s relationship with her.
The dynamics between the colleagues are well-drawn, and small subplots, such as a dognapping theme and Einar’s feelings towards the parrot he is looking after, provide light relief from the main themes of corporate greed and social breakdown. There are lots of details about Einar’s journalism, but I found it hard to credit that a paper would not have an internet edition in 2005, necessitating delays before Einar’s stories can be printed.
The main downside of the book for me is that he middle section drags, being too repetitive rather than developing the story, and spending too much time on quoting song lyrics. In the final section, when Einar begins to see how the various cases he is working on are connected, the pace picks up. But it has to be said that part of this is due to him waiting until very late in the book to meet and interview certain people, and on a somewhat serendipitous, but crucial, discovery.
This is the fourth book in a series, but the first to be translated into English. There has clearly been some back-story about Einar concerning his daughter and his previous job in the capital that can only be surmised here, but the book can be enjoyed without having read the previous titles.
I was sent this book by Amazon Vine.
Reading in Reykjavík : review of the Icelandic edition of this book.
Nice name for a book I think. You’d never get me a white water rafting exercise and I’ve often wondered how many hapless employees have been injured on one of these team building exercises. The setting is the big draw of this book for me.
I was a bit worried that it was going to turn out to be about witches when I saw the title, but it is a good solid mystery with, as you say, a great setting.
Maxine – Funny, that Donovan song popped into my head when I saw the title of your post. Thanks for the fine review. I too am pulled right towards this one by the setting. I also find it appealing that the novel goes behind the scenes in putting together news stories (but you’re right; by 2005 you’d think there’d be an Internet edition).
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Really enjoyed this – now when are his other books going to be translated!
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