3. “Operation Napoleon” by Arnaldur Indridason


Publisher: Vintage Books, 2011 (first published in the Icelandic in 1999)
Page count: 383 pages

Unlike Indridason’s other crime novels (which admittedly I have yet to read), “Operation Napoleon” is a standalone crime novel that is more historical mystery/thriller than crime novel per se. The book opens up in the final days of WWII when a German bomber plane, disguised in Allied colours, crashes on Vatnajökull in the midst of a terrible storm. Both German and American high-ranking officers are on board the plane, and one of them disappears into the storm carrying a suitcase attached to his wrist. Two brothers on a remote farm observe the crash from afar, but can do nothing to help because of the snow storm. By the time the brothers are able to notify the authorities, the plane has been swallowed up by the glacier, and US military attempts to retrieve it are in vain.

54 years later the plane slowly resurfaces from the glacier, triggering a covert American operation to extricate it. Two Icelandic teenagers on a mountain training expedition happen to observe the secret mission, and are captured and tortured by the American troops. Before they are caught, however, one of them, Elias, manages to call his sister Kristin and tell her about their discovery. Consequently Kriatin instantly suspects foul play when she hears that her brother has sustained life-threatening injuries in an accident on the glacier. Kristin sets out to discover the truth about the plane, plunging her into a geopolitical plot which puts her own life at risk…

“Operation Napoleon” is a classic airport novel; it’s an easy read, passes the time, and has sufficient plot to keep it interesting all throughout the book. That said, I found it to be a refreshing change from the crime novels and spy thrillers I usually read (which are UK and US ones, mostly). This was partly because of the unusual setting (when did you last read a spy novel set entirely on a glacier?) and partly because it’s a crime novel without the usual detective-victim-suspect routine. Also, Indridason does a good job in keeping you guessing at what exactly was in the plane, and the briefcase, to make the American secret services so desperate to recover the plane in secret after all these years. The result is a good read with a surprisingly decent plot – I won’t spoil anything more except to say that the geopolitical ramifications if such a plane really existed would be potent enough to change the course of world history…

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