In a country with one of the lowest murder rates in the world, the killing of a 20-year-old woman upended the nation’s sense of itself. By Xan Rice
The main shopping street in Reykjavík is called Laugavegur, “the way of hot pools”, because it was originally used by women hauling laundry from the town to the thermal springs two miles away. It cuts across Iceland’s capital from west to east, with the Atlantic Ocean below and, above, the bone-white Hallgrímskirkja church looming over the city’s brightly coloured roofs like a tower from Tolkien’s Middle-earth. It was a street that Birna Brjánsdóttir knew well.
A vivacious 20-year-old woman with auburn hair and a sharp sense of humour, Birna grew up in the suburbs, a 30-minute walk away. She liked music – everything from hip-hop to folk – and she liked to drive, and so in the summer of 2016 she embraced the Icelandic pastime of rúntur, cruising slowly down Laugavegur in her father’s car with her friends, windows open, speakers blaring, past the boutiques and coffee bars and tourist shops selling soft-toy puffins and knitted jumpers.