Teens & Young Adult Fiction Happy

‘The Volcanoes of Iceland’

By Marcus Newton-Howes, April 2022

Based on the Reedsy prompt: Write about a character on the hunt to solve a mystery who uses their local library (or librarian) as a source of information.


Kjartan had been back in Reykjavík for a couple of months, and was only now just settling into home life again. It was 10pm, and as it was winter, this meant it had been dark for quite some time. The kids were both sleeping. The project he’d been overseeing, the Kárahnjúkar hydroelectric dam, had been stressful, and it was great to finally be home.

Just sitting up in bed next to his wife Sigríður was nice. The project had been going on for many years, but the final year had been particularly stressful. He’d been away from home a lot, and the engineering and office-politics elements of the job had been a constant drain, and that wasn’t even mentioning the continual flak the project was getting from the environmentalists. But that was over now, at least for him. He looked away from his laptop at his wife, and she paused the movie she was watching on her iPhone and took out the earbuds.

Sigríður’s eyebrows rose a little. ‘Mmm?’ she enquired with a small smile.

‘I was just thinking that it’s great being back. Just sitting up in bed here, and we’re each doing our own thing, but it’s nice. We’re together. I like that.’ Kjartan smiled with a smile of genuine love, which his wife returned, leaning in to give him a peck on the cheek.

‘Yes, it is,’ she said. ‘Good for the kids to have you around too.’

Kjartan couldn’t agree more with that. He loved his kids, and valued having time with them. Also, they were at formative ages, being twelve and ten, so being around for them was particularly important he felt. ‘How are they doing?’ he asked. ‘I’m only just starting to come back up to speed with them and their interests.’

‘They’re great. We went ice-skating on Tjörnin on the weekend before you got back, and their skating is really coming along. Dagný’s doing very well at school, and her violin teacher has been very complimentary. I understand her orchestra is going to be performing at Harpa in a couple of months.’

‘Vá! That’s a big deal!’

‘Yes, and she’s really practicing hard for it. I just wish Magnus wasn’t quite as keen on practicing with his drums!’  Sigríður chuckled in a chagrined but good-natured way. ‘But seriously, he’s doing well with that. And his school-work too. He’s noticed Dagný’s interest in vulcanology, and has gotten mad keen on that himself. The maximum number of books you can borrow from the Reykjavík City Library at one time is fifteen for kids, and the last time we went there he wanted to borrow fifteen books, all about volcanoes. I told him he could have ten of those, maximum, and he got ten. Plus Gísla saga Súrssonar.’

‘Isn’t that a bit grown-up for him?’

‘I suppose. But I’m happy to see him taking an interest in Icelandic culture. It’s quite grown-up though. He probably won’t get into it too far, probably a good thing as it is quite violent in places. You’re not too unhappy about it?’

Kjartan was a bit uncertain on that. ‘I suppose not. The violence doesn’t bother me too much, but that’s not one of the ones that’re a bit, mmm, explicit in places…?’

‘I actually don’t think there’s much of that in Gisli,’ Sigríður replied. It does come up in a lot of the other sagas, but… to be honest, I’m not too worried about that myself. He’s ten. He knows the basics from the talk we gave him last year, and probably from the schoolground as well…’ There was a lull in the conversation for a little while, then she continued. ‘My one concern when it comes to reading is actually Dagný. She’s shown increasing resistance to reading recently.’

‘Really?’ Kjartan said, surprised. ‘She used to be a great reader.’

Yeah, it started when she got her phone I think. I’ve tried limiting screen-time, but it doesn’t seem to have helped much. Any ideas?’

Kjartan hmm-ed thoughtfully for a while. ‘I’ve the beginnings of an idea.’ He leaned over, kissed his wife, then put his laptop away. ‘I’m quite tired. Sleep well love.’ He snuggled down under the covers, as was his way.

Sigríður put her earbuds back in and went back to her movie. Her husband was a genius. He’d think of something.

The next week Kjartan spent a lot of time down at the local library with his laptop. He was 'work' working a bit of the time, but most of his time was spent on a top-secret project he refused to divulge to his wife just yet. By the end of the week though, the plan was mostly in place. The two of them were sitting up in bed again, and he explained what he had in mind, and got Sigríður’s willingness to be complicit in his cunning plan…

At the breakfast table the next morning Kjartan got his daughter to look up from her strawberry skyr and Minecraft by saying, ‘Mmm, Dagný, I have a bit of a mystery for you to solve. And if you can solve it, you get a treat.’

‘What sort of mystery? What sort of treat?’

‘I’m doing some work for a client at the moment who has a theory about volcano formation. We were chatting, and whilst his theory sounds preposterous, there was nothing I could point to as obviously false when he broke it down for me. Apparently it was first proposed by some crusty old professor named Einar Guðmundsson.’

‘Not the Einar Guðmundsson at the university? He does, what, philosophy? Not the novelist?’

‘Nope, neither of them,’ Kjartan replied, helping himself to more of his favourite coffee flavoured skyr, and adding a scandalously big dollop of cream. ‘I’ve tried googling the guy, but nothing. As for the treat, I’ll give you a few options.’

‘Alright,’ Dagný said, interested. ‘What do you actually want?’

‘Who was this guy? What was his background? He was supposed to be an old man back in the 50s, so he’d be dead now, but I don’t know exactly where or when he lived, except for early 20th century Iceland. I’ll tell you the theory, though you’ll probably laugh at it – obviously you know a bit about the subject yourself. Probably more than me in fact. But yeah, background on the fellow and on the actual theory, and, if you can manage it, something showing exactly why the theory is codswallop. You want a family trip to Húsdýragarðurinn zoo? I could manage something like that as the treat.

Dagný really enjoyed the petting zoo, and she loved a good mystery. The game was afoot.

The next two weeks found a new routine for Dagný. She would come home from school, make herself some toast, and eat it in her room while watching a Minecraft video on her phone for thirty minutes. Then she’d sit herself in front of her laptop and google the mystery her father had set her. She even googled techniques for googling it. Other than on weekends, her violin practice was getting to be negligible, which, when pointed out to her, did not change her habits. Instead, she started practising around 10pm – not a practice appreciated by other members of her family.

A couple of weeks later, and Dagný’s interest in the mystery was starting to fade. She’d found who she thought the fellow was, despite the fact there were, let’s face it, a lot of Einar Guðmundssons out there. She found his family tree details online, and even located a mention of the fact he had written a paper on vulcanology that had been published in some obscure Norwegian journal, (that had since fallen into desuetude.) The paper had not been cited even one time from what she could see, and Dagný started wondering if the publishing of this paper had perhaps contributed to that journal’s demise! Not much real progress though, which she found surprising.  She usually had a real knack for researching online.

But Kjartan would bring home tantalising hints from time to time, to keep her interested, and soon she’d be diving back into the internet on another wild-goose chase. It was funny, she thought. Wild gæsir didn’t live down kanína-holes! But those leads almost inevitably were rabbit holes. Her father also kept up a commentary of ideas on what her treat for solving the mystery would be. One day it was some lego she’d been hankering after, another it’d be a Saturday picnic for the family out at Gullfoss. His suggestion of a book he’d been hoping she’d find tantalising met only mild enthusiasm unfortunately, but the dinner and a movie idea was popular. As were the silver ear-studs she’d wanted since one of her friends had started wearing them.

Magnus was interested in the game too, especially seeing as how half of the treat ideas his dad came up with seemed to have a benefit for him too. Being only ten, he couldn’t really help his sister with the project itself, but he was caught up in the whole thing enough to continually encourage her, and even to put up with her late evening violin practisings.

The mystery started losing popularity again as Dagný’s performance drew closer, and her parents were semi-relieved. They wanted her to focus on her music so she could be ready for the concert. Harpa was almost three-quarters full on the night, and that alone was a success. The concert went really well too though, and afterwards the family went out for hotdogs at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, just a couple of minutes’ walk from the concert hall. The whole family agreed they were the best hotdogs around. It was then that Kjartan finally put the finishing touches on his plans. While they were standing around outside on that cold Reykjavík evening, finishing their hotdogs, he noticed a man walking along Tryggvagata with what looked like a child's library book in his hand, and it came to him.

The next weekend dad and daughter went for a Saturday morning stroll through town. They left the house late morning, and had reached Tjörnin as it was coming towards midday. The lake was still icy, but it was late spring now, and the ice was no longer reliably thick enough to skate on. They even noticed a few ducks on the grass nearby, looking as though they were waiting for the lake to finally go ice-free, so they could have a swim. Sigríður had taken Magnus to his football practice, so it was just the two of them. Soon they’d reached Iðnó café. It was quite expensive – it was for the tourists really – but Kjartan wanted to share a special moment with Dagný. Seated, they looked longingly at the Lax á ristuðu on the menu: smoked salmon, horseradish mayonnaise and dill on toast, with salad and a lemon wedge. Yum. But that was going a bit too far. They settled on a soup each, grænmetissúpa, vegetable soup, for her, and íslensk kjötsúpa, Icelandic meat-soup, for him. Both were utterly delicious.

Iðnó had a wonderful view out of the still-thawing Tjörnin, Reykjavík’s famous pond/lake. Even in its icy state the water was a pleasing sight. Kjartan had decided against something sweet, but his daughter was enjoying a slice of cake from the counter when one of the trombonists in her orchestra came in. The girl noticed Dagný and raced over, her parents and little sisters following more slowly. They sat together and caught up for a while. Fortunately, the newcomers’ food arrived just as Kjartan, checking his watch, had noticed it was time for them to leave – if they were going to stick to his plan – so they were able to escape in a natural way.

Outside the café, Kjartan checked his watch yet again. His timing looked to be perfect, and the two of them started walking home again. When they’d gotten back to the roundabout on Suðurgata he paused, looked at his watch, and mentioned to his daughter, ‘I think your mother and brother should be at the library about now. He’s probably in there looking for another fifteen books to borrow on vulcanology. Shall we pop in?’ Dagný was oblivious of his machinations, and readily agreed to go into the library, figuring a lift the rest of the way home was probably on the other side of the pop-in.

The Landsbókasafn Íslands – the National Library of Iceland – was just over the road, so they crossed over, and as luck would have it, bumped into the other two family members just as they were approaching the entrance. The family entered together. Kjartan surreptitiously checked his watch for the umpteenth time, and cast a sideways glance at his wife. There was the nod. Good.

‘Pósturinn is only three minutes’ walk away,’ Sigríður said to her husband, loud enough to be heard by the children who were loitering nearby, eyeing up some picture books based on the heroes of Iceland’s famous sagas.

‘But the children…?’ asked Kjartan, his voice rising.

Sigríður looked around and said, perhaps a little too theatrically, ‘Look there! It’s Storytime! We can leave them here at Storytime. We’ll only be gone twenty minutes, and that’ll be going for half an hour or more.’

Kjartan feigned caution. ‘I’ll double-check Dagný’s okay keeping an eye on her brother.’ He moved over towards her, but his kids had clearly both been listening, so when he opened with, ‘Ahhh. So would it be okay if…’ Dagný said, slightly reluctantly, it’s okay dad.’ She then turned to her brother. ‘Are you okay staying for Storytime Magnus?’ But she’d not half finished saying her piece when he disappeared over to the kid’s komfy kushion korner. ‘Twenty minutes, right?’ Dagný confirmed with a stern glance at both parents.

Her mother replied. ‘We’re literally just going to check on rates to post something to Ólafur in Manitoba, Canada. And perhaps also the cost to send him some money by Western Union transfer. We won’t be long. Thanks.’ With that, they left, only turning to check two things: that Dagný was walking in the direction of Storytime, and, by careful glances to their librarian accomplice, that that-girl-there was the girl in ‘the plan.’

Twenty minutes later, husband and wife re-entered the library. They headed over to the section marked, ‘Börn,’ and there was Magnus, sitting on the cushions and idly biting the sleeve of his soccer top while he avidly listened to the story. And… yuss! Mission successful! Kjartan celebrated internally. Dagný had, with the carefully innocent positioning by their accomplice, found the book he’d originally found when preparing her mystery. And she was sitting on the floor, cross-legged, engrossed in it!

Dagný continued to read all through the afternoon after they’d gotten back home. And through dinner, which was most irregular, but which her parents allowed on this occasion. By the end of dinner, just as her mother was starting to clear the table and the others were rising, Dagný announced to the family, ‘I have the solution!’ She made them all sit back down again, and began her intriguing tale as though she were Hercule Poirrot, explaining the mystery in detail to the assembled cast at the end of the movie. It was ingenious and intriguing, and I can tell you she fully explained The Mystery of the Improper Vulcanology Theory, it’s author and background. She even found some interesting clues that I myself had missed. And yes, she had thoroughly earned her treat. I’d made a bet with myself that out of the many treat ideas I’d floated, the one that would win out would be the family trip to Gullfoss, so I was surprised, and delighted, that my scheme had worked better than I’d hoped. She asked for a book. I just wish I had a photograph of the sudden look of joy on her brother’s face when he heard her ask for ‘The Volcanoes of Iceland!’

It was a couple of weeks later. The kids were asleep in their beds. I’d done my customary hundred press-ups, peed, washed my hands, and brushed my teeth. Sigríður looked very pretty in those pyjamas I liked her in, but today she was not engrossed in her phone as I hopped in. I half-wondered if I was going to get lucky, but she just congratulated me on a plan successfully accomplished. It looked like we’d got the voracious little reader that she’d been a couple of years ago back. There’d been very little Minecraft or Facebook from our eldest since that day, but plenty of nose-buried-in-book. We were thrilled. I grabbed my laptop from the nightstand and started the last little bit of work I wanted to get done before hitting the hay. I was just finishing up when my wife grabbed my other arm. ‘You know what I miss?’ she said.

I was stumped, and said as much.

‘Back when the television broke, just after we were married, and we used to go to bed early, and sit up, side by side like this, just reading.’

The tension relieved, I nodded, grinning and nostalgic. That was when she pulled out Isaac Asimov’s ‘Foundation,’ a book I’d enjoyed in my youth.

‘Come on, put that laptop away!’ she said, opening her own book.

I was agreeable to the idea, and only just got my fingers out before she closed the liddddddddddddddddddddddddddddd

[The program did not close down properly last time. Would you like to pick up from where you left off?]

April 19, 2022 12:03

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Karen Lethlean
05:40 Apr 29, 2022

I enjoyed the concept of the daughter or was it a son, using their time to solve the problem Daddy had placed before them. Thought of use of students on telephones and ipads in class.


16:16 Apr 29, 2022

Thanks Karen. They have a twelve year old daughter, Dagny, and ten year old son, Magnus. The idea for the story was that Dagny is great at researching stuff online, but sometimes you can have more luck researching using your library.


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Riel Rosehill
09:29 Apr 26, 2022

Hi Marcus - welcome to the contest and congrats to posting your first submission! I thought the ending with the parents reading in bed was adorable, though "I was agreeable to the idea, and only just got my fingers out before she closed the liddddddddddddddddddddddddddddd" ...sounds like he didn't manage to get his finger out after all before the laptop was closed, haha.


00:13 Apr 27, 2022

Indeed 😊 and thanks for your kind words.


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