[I am not necessarily reading this series of books, featuring the Icelandic detective Erlendur and his colleagues, in the right order. So, if you like what you see here, be warned and check up on the sequence.]
There’s a winter storm coming. As the bad weather builds up, so does the tension in this bare bones, minimalist crime story. It has a simple, believable plot with characters to match. Yet it is far from simplistic because it manages to entertain, enthral, and stimulate the reader with several strands of a fine story.
For example, who killed the young Thai kid, and why?
For example, are the police dealing with a racially motivated killing based on schoolyard gangs, a racist teacher, or other political troublemakers?
For example, why is the wife who has been reported missing in another case, bothering Erlendur on the phone? Why won’t she just come out and tell him what it is she has to say?
There’s more – like Sigurdur Oli’s childhood past leaking out because of his connection to the school, Erlendur’s ongoing situation with his own kids and his long dead brother, and Erlendur’s dying (former) boss – all delivered largely without sentimentality or sensationalism.
Erlendur’s world is a dark and pessimistic one. This case forces him to also enter the world of immigration in Iceland, and the differing view of multi-culturalism. There are no, if you will pardon the pun, black and white conclusions.
One of the weak points of the book is that there are some points where the author goes into “tell rather than show” mode. So we hear in bare prose why this person and that person do not get on, rather than having the scene built up for us by actions or dialogue. It doesn’t happen too often, but tends to take the edge off some of the otherwise fine writing and scene setting.
Talking of scene setting, the final scenes are consistent with the rest of the book, with just a bit more pace and action to take you to the climax.
At the end, this is a good book that doesn’t quite match the best of the author’s output I have read so far. But it’s certainly damn fine writing for the most part and very worthy of your attention.
As before, the translators – Bernard Scudder & Victoria Cribb in this case – deserve praise, too. They did a fine job.