A mother flees with her young daughter from the United States to Iceland in breach of a court ruling. A team of specialists are hired to retrieve the child. They befriend the mother, deceive her by staging a film shoot, and try to kidnap the child in the night.
Supreme Court lawyer Stefan Bjarnason makes an appearance in Icelandic literature for the first time. He is the Defense Attorney, the protagonist of the story. Quick witted, smooth and confident in both defense and attack, he is fickle in his private life, unable to sustain a relationship, and is constantly between women.
The story involves love, friendship, infidelity, abuse, cold blooded murder, and an unexpected ending. Despite a harsh storyline the narrative is written with manly sensitivity; it is sweet and beautiful with sharp wit and humor that is never far off.
The story takes place in around 1995 and features Helena Hreinsdóttir and her husband, an American soldier named Frank Ryan Mayson. Helena is the daughter of a single mother, Valgerður, who also has another older daughter, Ólöf. Neither daughter’s paternity has been made public knowledge, but it is revealed that Ólöf is the daughter of a high-ranking government official, while the identity of Helena’s father remains unknown.
Helena and Frank Ryan Mayson move to the United States where Helena becomes an alcoholic and drug addict, and after a stormy marriage during which she attempts to kill her husband three times, and which leads to a difficult divorce, Ryan wins custody of Kate, their five-year-old daughter. Helena flees with the child to Iceland in violation of the judge’s order.
Ryan is unable to meet his daughter and can’t get access to her through legal means. Ryan’s mother sees a television program on NBC about a company, Corporate Training Services, that specializes in rescuing abducted children in distant countries.
The owner of CTS, Mr. James Fenway, is a former special forces agent from the Delta regiment. Ryan and his mother hire CTS to retrieve the child. CTS stages a fake film production in Iceland where famous movie stars, Sylvester Stallone and the director Mario Kassar are supposed to be involved. People on behalf of CTS hire Helena to work on the movie’s preparation, and cultivate her friendship. They work with her for a while to earn her trust, and after an expensive meal at a fine hotel in Reykjavik, they slip Helena sleeping pills and extract the child while her mother sleeps in a hotel room. Ryan has arrived in Iceland and is waiting for his daughter in a car outside of the hotel, according to instructions from CTS.
Together, Ryan and Fenway CEO of CTS, try to take Kate, the daughter, out of the country, but Helena, the mother, awakens too early and realizes that her daughter is missing. She phones her stepfather, Reynir Roumskog, who is the head manager of the shops at Keflavik airport, and he gets the law enforcement at the airport to stop the men and arrest them.
Ryan requests that Stefán Bjarnason, supreme court attorney, be named as his defense counsel, since Stefán had worked for Ryan a few months earlier during his attempts to access his daughter. Stefán is unaware of CTS’ plans. At this point, Stefán becomes the main character of the story – The Defense Attorney.
Ryan and Fenway are detained pending further investigation and are consequently charged with kidnapping. The case tests whether or not a legitimate decision from an American court of justice regarding the custody of a father over his child holds validity in Iceland. Will Icelanders respect the American judgement? And can a father, who has a verdict of this kind in his favor, be guilty of kidnapping when he collects his own child?
The book covers interrogations and litigation where many unexpected events occur. For example, Helena bursts into the courtroom with two thugs who attack the lawyer Stefán Bjarnason in the middle of the hearing. The defendants, special agent Fenway and the father and soldier Ryan, come to Stefán’s aid. Fenway employs Taekwondo in an assault against one attacker, takes him down and kills him in court. Ryan controls the fate of the other attacker.
The trial shows that Helena had been an unfit mother who disappeared from home for long periods of time and lived with various dubious men in drug dens and trailer parks. The trial is weighted heavily against Helena, but the prosecutor decides to call one more witness, Ólöf, Helena’s older sister, who will testify about her character, childhood, and upbringing.
Reynir Roumskog, Helena and Ólöf’s step-father, doesn’t like this plan and fears that Ólöf will shed light on the sexual abuse she and Helena suffered at his hands in their youth. Before Ólöf is due to testify, Reynir takes her on a sightseeing tour of beautiful waterfalls on the south coast, where the falls are easily accessible and there is little traffic. There, he shoves Ólöf off of the waterfall’s edge. Reynir is investigated, but nothing can be proven.
After the hearing regarding in the kidnapping case against Ryan and Fenway, the trial is adjourned to await decision from the judge. Valgerður, Helena’s mother, begins to realize that Helena is going to lose the case, and subsequently her daughter. Valgerður goes to a meeting with the judge, and it comes to light that the judge is the father of Ólöf, Valgerður’s older daughter. The judge has therefore been ineligible to decide the case from the beginning. Valgerður threatens the judge that either he give Ryan a heavy prison sentence, or she will expose him as Ólöf’s father and ruin his career. In this way she hopes to ensure that Ryan will be out of the way for a long time, giving Helena custody of their daughter. The judge hands down a heavy sentence.
Ryan‘s and Fenway‘s lawyers discover why the verdict was so harsh, the judge steps down, and the supreme court declares a mistrial and sends the case back for re-trial in the lower court. This time Ryan is given a mild suspended sentence, and he is free to go. Fenway receives a two-year sentence, but he escapes few weeks later and manages to get back to the United States.
Helena informs Ryan that after all this, he isn’t Kate’s father. The child’s real father is Helena’s stepfather, Reynir Roumskog. He had abused her as a child and had continued after she became an adult. Kate came into being after an incident that occurred when Helena had come home to Iceland during a period of marital difficulties. Helena didn’t tell Reynir or anyone else who the child’s father was. Helena tells her mother who Kate’s father is. They believe that Reynir has killed Ólöf, and now fear for Helena’s life.
Valgerður gets Reynir to go with her back to the edge of the waterfall where Ólöf died, under the pretense that she wants to see the place where Ólöf was last alive and say goodbye to her. There, they say the Lord’s prayer, during which Valgerður pushes Reynir off the edge. Nothing is proven against Valgerður.
Into the story is woven a sub-narrative about Stefán Bjarnason’s lovers, including the Ukrainian woman Bohuslava Horyenko who speaks no Icelandic and little English, but who knows a considerable amount of Latin.
The novel is lively, full of humor, with detailed descriptions of the characters that appear in it. It is fiction, although based on real events that occurred when the author was the defense lawyer of an American man who tried to reclaim his daughter, without success.
As a short epilogue, it is revealed that Helena recovers, her relationship with Ryan improves, and Ryan is able to meet Kate as if she was his own daughter. Kate grows up and becomes a beauty queen, but falls into bad company, uses drugs, and takes part in a life-threatening assault, of which she is acquitted. Her defense lawyer is Stefán Bjarnason.
Supreme court attorney Stefán Bjarnason had just gotten comfortable in his office in Borgartún, Reykjavík, when the phone at the front desk began to yammer aggressively. The light on his answering system subsequently started blinking. A beautiful banker’s lamp with its green glass shade shone cozily over the files on the desk. Stefán preferred soft light and disliked being illuminated from overhead, so he didn’t turn on the ceiling lights. He also didn’t want to increase the harshness of the frosty January morning with cold, fluorescent lighting. No one had arrived yet; at seven a.m. there was always peace and quiet. In his hands was a case regarding an old Harley-Davidson motorcycle that had been removed from the basement of a house in Hafnarfjörður belonging to the elderly mother of some guy named Daniel. The man who had taken it was Daniel’s uncle who had given him the motorcycle as a gift thirty-nine years earlier. The bike was half broken-down, but Daniel had been fixing it up – he’d taken his time, and repairs were now well underway. The uncle claimed that he had given Daniel the bike on loan; he had shown familial loyalty by putting up with the loan for so long, but now the time was up. Stefán had found the case legally interesting, but he also felt sorry for Daniel who was disabled, and had no money or possessions. The uncle, however, was a former police officer who was known for getting his own way. Stefán knew full well that he wouldn’t get paid for his work, but every now and then he accepted such cases when his righteous indignation took over.
The phone at the front desk continued to ring and the light on the answering system blinked intensely. Certain customers who knew Stefán to be an early riser sometimes tried to get ahold of him directly before the office opened. This was time he wanted to himself, however, to think and work on those issues that most required quietude. Most often though, he was tempted to answer if he couldn’t ignore the noise. He pushed the blinking button. The voice of an English speaking woman was on the other end of the line. Stefán didn’t hear the first sentence, but was startled when the woman said: “A child has been kidnapped.”
The woman was very upset. Stefán ruffled his thick, blond hair while he listened, and asked her to repeat what she had said. The woman said something incoherent about the United Nations’ Human Rights Declaration. Stefán heard her mention a chapter of consular law which he hadn’t read recently. Finally, he stopped the stream of words and asked the woman to retrace the facts more calmly, starting at the beginning – but first to give her name, and kindly spell it.
She said her name was Patricia Coocky, Pat Coocky, consul at the American Embassy in Iceland. “The police contacted the embassy earlier at the request of your client, who is being interviewed regarding the kidnap of a child.” “Just a moment, what’s the name of my client?”
“I’m getting to it, it’s here in my notes. Frank Ryan Mayson, from Navarre, Florida. He has a five year old daughter, Kate, with an Icelandic woman, Helena Hreinsdóttir.” The pronunciation of Hreinsdóttir was difficult for the consul: “Rainsdottr.”
As soon as the consul said Mayson’s name, things became clear to Stefán.
“Mayson tried to kidnap the child,” said Pat Coocky, shocked.
Frank Ryan Mayson had been in touch with Stefán about five months ago, looking for legal advice and assistance in recovering his daughter, Kate Elisabeth Mayson. Her mother, and Mayson’s former wife, Helena, had taken the child out of the United States in violation of a judge’s ruling that Mayson had custody of the child. The court had taken the child’s passport, but Frank Ryan Mayson believed that Helena had gotten a temporary passport from a consular official in Tallahassee.
By the time he had contacted Stefán, Frank Ryan Mayson had been unable to reach his daughter for months. Stefán had written a letter to the Icelandic government, as well as to Helena’s lawyer and had been in negotiations with him. No decision had been reached, but Stefán had made Mayson aware that in Iceland such cases were difficult, and that mothers most often got the better of it when it came to children.
Pat Coocky referred again to consular law and let Stefán know that the embassy’s sole reason for involvement was to protect the interests of the child and ensure that the father received a good defense. The embassy would not intervene in the case in any way, as this would constitute interference in domestic affairs.
“Interference in domestic affairs?” Stefán was surprised. The case was obviously an international issue, but it meant little to quarrel about it now. He hurried to end the conversation and said that he would be in touch with the police. Stefán was tall and long-legged, suitably sturdy, and wore intellectual-looking glasses. In a tweed jacket, corduroy pants, and a tie, he looked more like a successful writer than a lawyer. In a foreign crime novel his height would have been described as a smug six feet in socks.
Stefán knew that Ryan was a soldier and that he and Helena had met when he served at the Keflavík airport. After that, they had moved abroad and lived near to Ryan’s family in Navarre, Florida. Included along with the documents that Ryan had sent was a beautiful picture of him with their daughter Kate.
Deep in thought, Stefán quickly realized that it would come down to which agreements were in effect between Iceland and the United States regarding the acknowledgement of each country’s judgments and court rulings. “Do the Americans take our decisions seriously? Don’t we need to have a special ruling in the United States? Do we accept their rulings?” Stefán admitted to himself that he didn’t know much about international agreements. “There are at least agreements between the Nordic countries and maybe some European countries, likely the Lugano Convention, but I don’t remember any treaties with the United States,” he muttered to himself.
He decided to check if he could find anything about similar cases. It was better to let his client wait a little bit rather than come empty handed.
He made little headway by book or computer. There didn’t seem to be any international agreements that applied directly in this case. It was nearing eight o’clock. “I’ll have to take a shortcut,” he thought, lifting the phone and making a call without looking up the number. After many rings, a sleep-heavy voice finally answered: “Who’s calling now?”
“Hi Maggi, it’s Stebbi, sorry for calling so early, but I have to talk to you about something. Are you awake?”
“Your smarts don’t desert you,” answered Magnús.
Magnús Kjartansson was Stefán’s childhood friend and had been his schoolmate at elementary school, high school, and the University of Iceland’s Faculty of Law. He had a doctorate in Law and worked for the Department of Foreign Affairs. It occurred to Stefán that he might know something about international agreements. The problem was that Magnús stayed up late and woke up late, but their long and loyal friendship had endured more inconveniences than that. When Magnús was studying in Norway, he had sent Stefán a postcard that read: Everything’s been found out, burn the records. Greetings, Magnús. Stefán had no idea how many times the postcard had changed hands before it finally arrived to him.
Stefán described the limited facts that he knew, and then finally posed the issue to Magnús. “The key question has to be: can a man kidnap his own child? The child that he has custody of?”
Dr. Magnús Kjartansson was now wide awake and interested. He sat on the edge of the bedframe wearing only his briefs – he was single, and supreme ruler. He stood up and tottered out with the phone at his ear. A gorgeous sight – pale, unshaven, disheveled, hunched over, with out-turned feet. In the living room, bookshelves covered the walls. It had started innocently – the shelves were quickly filled. Then books ended up on the dining table, which was now loaded with them. From there, it led to the fine antique cabinet he had inherited. The small, white statues that had adorned the cabinet had been pushed aside to make room for books. Next was the four-seat sofa and the coffee table. Now, two could sit on the sofa with an attractive stack of books between them. A coffee cup was on top of the books on the coffee table. On the window sill behind the curtain, there were books. Here lived a scholar.
Magnús found the book he was looking for in a moment, and flipped the pages. “Damn it, I can’t find anything here in haste and I can’t remember an agreement with the States. Don’t you think we should trust in common sense to start with? It’ll take you far in law,” he said to his friend Stefán.
“Sure does, doesn’t it. Common sense would tell you that it’s a long shot to call that kidnapping a child. And admittedly it would be strange if Icelanders took to ignoring the decisions of American courts as if the United States was some kind of banana republic,” Stefán said.
“It could become an international issue,” said Magnús, laying the book down on the arm of the sofa.
It had never before occurred to him to use that space.
“The Defense Attorney is an exciting novel that is difficult to set aside before it’s finished. The characters are believeable and some are incredibly similar to nationally recognized figures. It is a funny, entertaining, and thrilling story.
„Stíllinn hnyttinn og háðskur. Ég skemmti mér konunglega við lesturinn. Mæli eindregið með henni.“
„Verjandinn er skotheldur krimmi, hörkuspennandi en Óskari tekst að sauma inní svo átakanlegar aðstæður að þær kalla fram skellihlátur lesandans. Átakanlega fyndinn og spennandi krimmi. Já. Þetta er nýtt.“
„Sakamáladrama í líki spennusögu. Ískrandi háð og hárfínt skop krydda réttinn.“