REVIEW The Valhalla Murders (S1 E3&4/8)

Last week, BBC Four made a welcome return to Iceland with The Valhalla Murders, its new eight-part crime drama.

Starring Nína Dögg Filippusdóttir as Reykjavik homicide detective Kata, and Björn Thors as profiler Arnar, it started off in very watchable, enjoyable fashion. (Whenever I say ‘enjoyable’ when reviewing a crime drama, I wonder what people must think – how can a drama featuring its victims whose eyes have been gauged out be ‘enjoyable’ in any way? What I mean is, The Valhalla Murders was enjoyable in the context of crime dramas – it was well-acted, nicely directed with excellent cinematography and featured an atmospheric soundtrack. Add in a snowy Iceland, and you had all the ingredients of something absorbing and immersive.)

The final scenes of episode two saw another erstwhile staff member of the Valhalla children’s home murdered, her body found inside the derelict home itself. The killer was obviously sending a message and killing people who could have done bad things to its children during their time there – especially as the victims (another former staff member – a reputable doctor – was also murdered tonight, and also received the same staff photograph the other had received).

And yet, another, more unexpected victim of the murderer – or at least a victim connected to the case – emerged in tonight’s double-bill, and it tied in with the seemingly random set of bones found in Hvalfjörður Kata was investigating before the serial killer struck – the bones were also found to be connected to Valhalla.

What I liked about the emergence of this victim was how the emotional impact of the death hit his parents – including father Kristjan – who had been wondering for all these years what had happened to their son, Tomas. They revealed to Kata that their relationship had almost ended in the aftermath of their son’s disappearance, and they had both suffered struggles with mental health and substance abuse. The mark of a good crime drama is how well it details the emotional toll of crime, and The Valhalla Murders did a good job in tonight two episodes.

Another way it showed the emotional toll of crimes was to feature two of the survivors of sexual abuse at Valhalla. Kata and Arnar’s team – thanks to some diligent work, which sometimes meant sleeping in the station overnight – had found some of the people who actually attended the children’s home. In the end, these two now grown men ended up on television, detailing their experiences in emotional fashion.

Which was just as well, because the government (or the Icelandic equivalent of child services) had always denied any wrongdoing at Valhalla.

All told it was an emotional two instalments tonight.

Not least because Kata had her own gutwrenching problems at home. There have always been accusations that her teenage son Kari was up to no good, despite his butter-wouldn’t-melt demeanour. Now we got a real flavour of exactly what he had been up to – he had seemingly been present during the rape of a female school colleague at a drunken party. And there was a video to prove it. After pulling some strings to find out what was on the video, and actually interviewing the survivor herself (dangerous Kata, dangerous), Kata was plunged into a very difficult situation – to the extent that we saw her in the final scenes thinking about hiding some crucial evidence.

Now, add in Arnar’s own family problems (his father died, and we learned that they had a very strained relationship – as he did with his brother – perhaps because he was gay), and it’s pretty obvious that The Valhalla Murders is all about parenting, and what it means to be a parent.

With the themes intact and the action ramping up, I have to say I’m enjoying it – there’s emotional oomph, action, procedural intrigue and some good acting on show. That’s not to say that it isn’t generic, because it really is – strong but vulnerable lead female lead, taciturn partner, trouble with the kids at home etc etc. Yes, we’ve seen all of this before.

But on these cold winter nights, and new wrinkles on familiar themes, The Valhalla Murders continues to be enjoyable.

Yes, enjoyable.

Paul Hirons

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.



4 thoughts on “REVIEW The Valhalla Murders (S1 E3&4/8)”

  1. This was an enjoyable piece of Scandi (ish) murder mystery , well paced and acted. Just one thing , It was a bit obvious as this plot line has been used too many times before in the recent past. George Gently, Endeavour and Hinterland have had the murders linked to a children’s home murky past linked to a paedophile that has risen in society, and who has used police corruption to protect their identity.
    How about an original story line next time please?


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