Oblivion – Arnaldur Indridason

Having finished off Detective Erlendur Sveinsson’s career, but finding there were more stories to tell, this author set about creating some prequels, of which this is one.

As a newly promoted detective, Erlendur has a newly discovered battered body to deal with, as well as a cold case involving the decades old disappearance of a schoolgirl nagging away in his head. Our hero is quickly mixed up in matters that involve the basest human emotions, and the grandest political arenas.

Top marks to the translator (Victoria Cribb) for a flawless piece of work, rendering this somewhat sparse Icelandic tale as it should be: dark, cold, and threatening. The characters are life like, and the backdrop authentic and enthralling. Erlendur and his colleagues stay true to their calling in the dogged pursuit of justice, even if it does not always take them where you might think.

Classic crime fiction as it should be. It leaves an impact long after you have read the last word. And then you begin the wait for the next one.

Hypothermia – Arnaldur Indridason

[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.]

To cut straight to the chase, I think this may be the best Indridason book I have read. So, if that helps, you can skip the rest and pop on to Amazon and get a copy. You will not be disappointed.

First, the story. A suicide of a woman at her holiday home. Nothing suspicious about it, but Erlendur senses something. Then he gets his annual visit from the parent of a kid who disappeared decades ago, just checking in. But the old man is dying, and Erlendur is troubled that he may go to his grave without knowing what happened.

So, despite the lack of any evidence, Erlendur goes solo, in digging around the suicide victim’s life and background. Her father died in a boating accident. Is there a connection? The victim was fanatical about the afterlife. Does that explain her suicide?

At the same time, Erlendur looks again at the file of the boy who disappeared. His cold case talents are among the best, and slowly but surely he gets a clue as to what might have occurred.

And also at the same time, Erlendur’s relationship with his former wife and his two kids, bumps along.

Second, the glory of the book.

What the author does is deliver a smart, compassionate, but realistic perspective on the human condition. And he wraps it up inside a cracking piece of crime fiction, and packages it in an authentic and suitably stark Icelandic backdrop. There are no big bangs, high level cover ups, or world wide conspiracies; just ordinary people, in their ordinary lives, warts and all. But even if the writing is somewhat melancholy at times, there is a fiery spirit of endurance – something like we will overcome! – that very definitely makes its presence felt.

The characters are solid, especially Erlendur. But even those who make a walk on, walk off appearance, make an impact.

The plot is one of his strongest, to date, and even if hardened crime fiction readers will guess what is going on, the author still plays with the readership, just to show he is well aware of the dangers of taking things for granted.

The pacing is steady, relentless, and sometimes the book hints at the edge of the supernatural intruding. Scary.

And, in time honored tradition, I was hoping there was more to come when I reached the end. The sign of a good read.

My overwhelming impression is that an after dinner conversation with the author would be something to treasure. He’s a great story teller, and this is a great book.

Again, kudos to the translator: Victoria Cribb.

Arctic Chill – Arnaldur Indridason

[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.

The Draining Lake – Arnaldur Indridason

[I am reading this series of books featuring the Icelandic detective Erlendur and his colleagues out of order. So, if you like what you see here, be warned and check up on the order if it bothers you.]

The lake mentioned in the title drains away to reveal a skeleton weighed down by old, Cold War spying equipment. Erlendur is to investigate and promptly sets off on a relentless, sometimes reckless, pursuit of the truth. It’s an old corpse with little by way of clues to help, but Erlendur will not be deterred.

As readers, however, we see the mystery from the other side, with flashbacks from the height of the Cold War featuring an Icelandic student in Leipzig. These flashbacks get into the nitty gritty reality of living behind the Iron Curtain, with its surveillance society, and Orwellian existence. The Leipzig material builds up into a picture of dark deeds, betrayal, and love lost. It’s sad and all too believable.

Meanwhile, Erlendur, weighed down by his drug addicted, suicidal daughter, and newly interested son, has his own potential love life to sort out. And all the time he keeps plugging away to find out what happened to the man in the draining lake.

The plot has a couple of twists; just enough to give the story a bit of zip. But it does not need any more. The quality of the writing draws the reader in to the inevitable climax.

It flows a little smoother better than Silence of the Grave, and despite the similar thread of trying to find the truth behind a buried skeleton (or two), it’s fresh, interesting, and enthralling. Erlendur’s haunted past is neither overdone, nor light decoration. The author has put together a fine character and supports him well. The atmosphere is dark, dark, dark, with a spark of light, occasional humor, and hope springing eternal. I think.

Well worth reading. I continue to work my way through Indridason’s back catalog.

Finally, I think I forgot to mention it last time out, but the translator – Bernard Scudder – deserves praise, too. He did a great job.

Silence of the Grave – Arnaldur Indridason

[I am reading this series of books featuring the Icelandic detective Erlendur and his colleagues out of order. So, if you like what you see here, be warned and check up on the order if it bothers you.]

I think this is Indridason’s second published novel in the series, and in some ways you can tell; there are certain places where the writing is a little unpolished, a little raw, and the story moves along but with a slight rattle. However, perversely it may be that this edginess is perfect to match the dreadful story at the center of the book: one of prolonged, sustained, cruel and vindictive domestic physical and mental abuse. The author, if you will pardon the pun, pulls no punches in setting out this nasty and tragic series of events by way of retrospective retelling.

Alongside this, our police men and women are investigating the identity of bodies found in a shallow grave.

And Erlendur is having his own personal challenge, with the life of his daughter hanging by a thread, and his failed marriage hanging around him like a supercharged guilty conscience.

The author takes us into all these dark places, in a steady, understated fashion. The banality of souls falling apart in a world that is neither black nor white.

I admire the way the whole package is put together. The plot has its twists, but these points of fine detail are less important (and less impressive) than the very human canvas Indridason paints.

This comes across as all too real, all too likely, and all too sad and desperate. In short, thoughtful, articulate, and honest. It did make me wonder how much of Indridason’s life was popping out between the pages. Noir. Very noir. And very much recommended.

Voices – Arnaldur Indridason

This is a book in the series featuring another of my favorite defective detectives, Erlendur, in which his troubled youth and family woes are fully exposed. There’s a melancholy mood to the man, which somehow does not get in the way (too much) of him doing his job as a murder detective in Reykjavik.

A maid discovers the body of the hotel doorman, brutally stabbed, just before his appearance as Santa Claus at the hotel’s children’s party. The victim is something of a mystery figure; although a long term employee and hotel resident, nobody seems to know much about him. It’s up to Erlendur and crew to sort things out.

The gradual uncovering of the man’s past, and the various story threads revolving around that are brilliantly handled. And you get a real sense of Iceland (as viewed by the author). The characters are top of the line, and the atmosphere is not too dark so as to be depressing. It’s more a sort of fateful acceptance that sometimes life is shit. And sometimes that acceptance is shit, too.

It’s believable, realistic, and engrossing. Highly recommended.

Black Skies – Arnaldur Indridason

Detective Sigurdur Oli is one of a trio of detectives created by the Icelandic author Arnaldur Indridason. (See my review of his Outrage, here.)  Each has his own, distinct character and back story, full of day to day issues and challenges like family, relationships, commitments and so on, combining to fill out a believable, solid personality.

Oli is recovering from the breakup of his relationship, and getting to terms with being on his own. He attends a school reunion which turns out to have been setup as an opportunity for one of his contemporaries to flout his latest success in the escalating financial world. Oli’s less successful life irks him somewhat, but he moves on.

His trouble really starts when, at the request of a friend, he visits a blackmailer to find that person battered and unconscious. When the victim dies in hospital, Oli pushes the boat out by investigating the murder without letting on why he was there in the first place.

As he investigates, and digs himself into a deeper hole, the tale of blackmail spins out to involve dodgy financial dealings of some of the newly minted bankers of Reykjavik. At this point, Oli’s bitter edge returns. And, at the same time, he keeps crossing paths with the other end of the social spectrum – a down and out who is desperately trying to tell Oli something, but cannot quite bring himself to do so.

The writing is clean, lean and lacking pretension. The characterization is good, and the story telling is first class. There’s a clear empathy for the downtrodden exhibited in Oli’s – and presumably the author’s – perspective, and a healthy dose of criticism of the financial follies that eventually brought Iceland to its knees.

The whole package is a quality piece and highly recommended. Straightforward, solid crime writing and enough to encourage more reading of the author’s works.

Score: 8/10.


Outrage – Arnaldur Indridason

Detective Elinborg leads the investigation into the murder of a man in his own flat in Reykjavik. His throat has been slashed, he is wearing a t-shirt that’s not his, and has the the date-rape drug (Rohypnol) in his pocket. It transpires that he had also taken Rohypnol.

Facing a puzzle with no clues as to the killer, Elinborg – while simultaneously doing her best to maintain some balance with her family and home life – tries to build up a picture of the victim.

The character is well developed and given plenty of opportunity to tell the reader about her thoughts and troubles. The interaction with her family comes across as normal and realistic, and is not so overdone as to intrude on the crime investigation.

What you get here is thoughtful introspection on life, humanity and criminality – all done without boring the reader to death, or making him forget this is a crime novel. The writing is polished without being flowery, and while the dialogue is not razor sharp, it conveys a down to earth picture of something that might be real. In short, it’s believable.

Reykjavik does not have the gloss or glitzy appeal of other cities, and it obviously cannot claim to be a rural backwater, so it’s a credit to the author that he gets the backdrop spot on. He doesn’t overplay the city as something it isn’t, so it’s there but doesn’t take over the story. Some may say it makes the setting anonymous which, I suspect, is exactly the author’s intent. Anyway, the point is, do not read this expecting to experience something of substance in that city, or indeed the country. Instead, savor the gritty resolution of the detective, and a well crafted crime novel.

Score: 7.5/10