It had been a while since I read Arnaldur Indriðason’s* Operation Napoleon last. Originally published as Napóleonsskjölin in 1999, its English translation appeared earlier this year.
The reason for the political thriller’s late advance on the English-speaking market is probably that it is not part of the crime author’s popular Detective Erlendur series.
I don’t mind; I actually applaud the thriller’s independent storyline as I sometimes find old Erlendur has become a bit tired.
Once again, Arnaldur proves to me that when he is thoroughly interested and engaged in a plot, he is excellent at what he does, keeping readers glued to the pages, making them feel for the characters and cry out in surprise as the story unravels.
At least that’s how I reacted to Operation Napoleon, inspired by Winston Churchill’s “Operation Unthinkable” to attack the Soviet Union with the aid of the Germans at the end of World War II reported by The Daily Telegraph in 1998.
Arnaldur makes a mysterious German airplane en route from Berlin to America with a stopover in Iceland crash on Vatnajökull glacier. The US military launches extensive search for the airplane in vain but almost 60 years later it resurfaces.
High-ranking US military officials launch a highly secretive and ruthless operation to reclaim the airplane and its cargo to bury the secret it carries once and for all, so potentially destructive that even the US Secretary of Defense is left out of the loop.
Enter Kristín, an ordinary Icelandic citizen who works as a lawyer for the Icelandic Ministry for Foreign Affairs and gets entangled in the operation when by coincidence her brother sees the airplane on Vatnajökull and is caught by the US military.
Maybe because a male author chose to narrate the story through a woman, I didn’t really connect with the heroine. I didn’t find her background particularly interesting and she remained rather distant to me throughout.
However, I found the other characters sympathetic, especially Steve from the American military base in Keflavík. The characters of the elderly Captain Miller and farmer Jón were deep and felt authentic.
I won’t reveal any more of the plot apart from saying that I remembered when rereading the book that the romantic in me became cross with Arnaldur at one point.
I felt the same way now—I actually had to put the book away for a while after finishing one particularly dark and gory chapter.
There were things I wish had turned out differently—although I admit that wouldn’t necessarily have been realistic and the novel is no worse, maybe even better, for the sake of it—but I absolutely love the ending.
I’ve read about critics who comment that Arnaldur’s conspiracy theory is far-fetched and maybe it is—but what a conspiracy!
And if novelists aren’t allowed to play around with historical facts and have to restrict their imagination too much, their books would simply become dull.
That can certainly not be said about Operation Napoleon, a conspirational joyride in Dan Brownian fashion.
Operation Napoleon is available on amazon.com.
Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir