In 1960, the body of a Danish cryptographer is found on an uninhabited island in Breiðafjörður Bay in West Iceland and Kjartan, a lawyer working at the District Commissioner’s office in Patreksfjörður, is sent to Flatey island to solve the mystery of his death. So begins the plot in The Flatey Enigma (Flateyjargáta) by Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson.
On Flatey Kjartan becomes acquainted with some of the island community’s quirky characters and, with the assistance of the police in Reykjavík, slowly the pieces of the puzzle start coming together.
Early on, Kjartan establishes that the cryptographer’s death is linked to Flateyjarbók (the Flatey Book), the largest of the Icelandic ancient manuscripts, compiling sagas of the Norse kings, the sagas of the Greenlanders, among others, a copy of which is kept in the Flatey library.
It turns out that the cryptographer had visited the island to try to solve a famous riddle, the Flatey Enigma, stored in the library along with the copy of Flateyjarbók.
The riddle itself is part of the story as two of its characters discuss it between themselves throughout, and only towards the end is it revealed who these two characters are.
Kjartan’s investigation appears to be running smoothly when ghosts from his own past surface and unexpected and gruesome events upset the otherwise peaceful island life.
The Flatey Enigma is the second novel by Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson that I’ve read—the first being Daybreak, also available in English—and while I appreciated his modern-day crime thriller I enjoyed the historical aspect of The Flatey Enigma even more.
I’ve never been to Flatey but the island—with a dwindling population it’s the only island on Breiðafjörður that remains inhabited year-round—and the ways of the islanders are so vividly described that it felt as if I had.
The twist of Flateyjarbók, of which the author must have extensive knowledge, makes the plot more interesting still. Spiced up with colorful characters, their fallacies and superstitions, the book is a joy to read with the solution to the mystery being simple yet surprising.
Lovers of both crime novels and historical novels will have a field day with The Flatey Enigma as it is a combination of both and I’d also recommend it to those interested in Icelandic culture and the sagas.
Originally published in Iceland in 2002, The Flatey Enigma was among Icelandic novels released in English by AmazonCrossing following the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2011 and is available on amazon.com.