Category Archives: Icelandic authors
Posted by BookerTalk
Sometimes the brain just craves crime. Not your cosy, locked room in a vicarage kind of crime fiction. But equally not the type that comes oozing with blood and mangled bodies. Arnaldur Indridason’s Reykjavík Nights fitted the bill perfectly being neither too slight nor too complex but offering a darkish mood and some bleak settings as you’d expect from Nordic Noir.
This is the second Indiridason novel I’ve read from his Inspector Erlendur series which began in English translation in 2000 with Jar City. Reykjavík Nights is actually a prequel, one of a “Young Erlendur” series that features Erlendur in the days when he was a humble cop on the beat in Reykjavík and is yet to join the hallowed ranks of the detective branch of the Icelandic police force.
Reykjavík Nights sees him just settling into the police force, working the night shift with two law students. His nights are full of robberies, road accidents, drunks and fights but his mind is pre-occupied by the death a year earlier of a homeless alcoholic called Hannibal. Erlendur knew something of the man’s life having taken pity on him when he found him slumped in public space in the depths of winter.
Now Hannibal was dead. Found drowned near some old peat pits and close to his last known abode inside a heating pipeline. Was it an accident as the police report seemed to suggest? No-one seems particularly to care: he was just a loner and a drunk; one of many on the streets of the city. No-one that is except Erlendur who wants to get at the truth before Hannibal’s death becomes another cold case consigned to the bottom of the pile. He conducts his own investigation, entering the world of people on the fringe of society, the homeless and the lost who congregate in the city’s squares and parks.
As he proceeds he becomes convinced there is a link between Hannibal’s death and the disappearance of a young married woman called Oddny. She’d gone for a night out at a local club but never made it home. Determination, thoroughness and an ability to sift truth from lies help him solve the case but not before Indridason has taken us down a few blind alleys.
As a prequel, Reykjavík Nights does a good job of introducing aspects of Erlendur’s nature which play out strongly in the later novel I read, Silence of the Grave. The older Erlunder is rather morose, a solitary figure who has difficulty forming relationships but also capable of compassion. In Reykjavík Nights he walks the streets of the city, dropping into graveyards for “peace and solace” ; an observer rather than a participant, but with a gift for getting people to talk to him. Not for him are “relentlessly hearty people” because “such forced jollity could quickly become oppressive”.
Instead he prefers to spends his free time at home listening to jazz or reading. Erlunder has been a collector of books since his teenage years, regularly visiting antiquarian bookshops in search of true stories “about human suffering in shipwrecks, avalanches or on the old roads that crossed the Icelandic wilderness.” He has a girlfriend – (later to become his wife) but it is clear that he is reluctant to commit to a deeper relationship with her until fate intervenes and forces his hand.
Mirroring Erlunder’s gloomy mood is the bleakness of the city where he works. For much of the novel, Reykjavík enjoys summer sunshine but as Erlunder reflects, there is another side to the city:
….so strangely sunny and bright, yet in another sense so dark and desperate. Night after night he and his fellow officers patrolled the city in the lumbering police van, witnessing human dramas that were hidden from others. Some the night provoked and seduced; other, it wounded and terrified.
The story line edges on being pedestrian; progressing slowly and methodically without the aid of sudden revelations. But the plot wasn’t really my main interest in this book. I enjoyed it more as a character study of a young, somewhat idealist policeman who has a strong sense of what is right and wrong. For people who have enjoyed the series featuring the mature Erlunder, this is a good chance to take a step back and understand how he came to be the morose, lone 50-something detective with a broken marriage and drug-addicted daughter of the later novels.
The book: After eleven novels featuring the mature Detective Arnaldur, Indiridason began a new series that delve into the detective’s early, formative years. Reykjavík Nights translated into English in 2014 is the second of two novels focused on the young Erlunder (the first is The Great Match which is set even before Erlunder joins the police force). My copy of Reykjavík Nights was translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb.
The author: Arnaldur Indridason worked as a journalist, freelance writer and film critic before publishing his first novel Sons of Dust (Synir duftsins) in 1997, putting him on the path to becoming one of his country’s best known writers. At one point, his novels were seven of the top ten books at the Reykjavik City Library. His novels have been published in 26 countries. His first book to be published in English was Jar City (aka Tainted Blood).
Why I read this book: it was recommended by Mary Whipple who blogs at marywhipplereviews
Posted by BookerTalk
Harm Done by Ruth Rendell
Rendell can always be relied upon for a meticulously plotted crime within the context of a contemporary social issue. Harm Done is no exception. It finds Chief inspector Wexford confronted by three crimes – the abduction of two young girls by an odd couple who make the girls do their housework; mob violence targeted at a child molester recently released from prison and the disappearance of a three-year-old girl. Other novelists would have somehow connected these crimes, often in a highly implausible way but Rendell is too canny a writer to take that predictable approach. Instead she opts for thematic linkage by showing that beneath the idyllic façade that Kingsmarkham shows to the world is a darker world of abuse towards women.
Rendell’s tendency to contextualise her crime with current social issues is one of the most enjoyable aspects of her work. No Harm shows us the perspective of the victims of domestic violence, their children and the people who try to help by running refuges and helplines. It pushes the Inspector to confront his assumptions about abuse and to learn more from the one member of his family who has hands-on knowledge, his daughter who works at one of the women’s shelters.
The novel works well as an audio version. Nigel Anthony has the right kind of edginess to his voice to make Wexford’s sometimes irascible temper believable.
Silence of the Grave by Arnaldur Indriðason
I’m indebted to Sarah at HardBooksHabit for introducing me to Indridasonand his Reykjavik Murder Mysteries series. Her review of Jar City got me scurrying in search of anything in our library service catalogue that featured Detective Inspector Erlendur and his team. Silence of the Grave , translated from the Icelandic by Bernard Scudder is book number 4 in the series.
This finds Erlendur called in when a skeleton is discovered half-buried in a construction site outside of Reykjavík. As archaeologists unearth the body inch by inch Erlendur’s team painstakingly try to piece together the history of families who might have lived in the area decades earlier. They are not sure even if they’re dealing with the victim of a murder or a simple case of a missing person who got lost in one of Iceland’s winter storms.Few people are alive who can help him unravel this cold case and even those who are, seem reluctant to tell the truth.
Compounding the problem is that, like many other fictional detectives Erlendur has a troubled personal life which threatens to erupt at the most incovenient moment. When his estranged daughter makes a dramatic call for his help Erlendur desperately goes in search of her through the streets of Reykjavik, questioning drug addicts and previous known associates to understand how she has ended up in a coma from which she may never recover. As Erlendur struggles to hold together the crumbling fragments of his family, his case unearths many other tales of family pain in the hills around Reykjaik: of domestic violence; family shame and loyalty.
This was a highly satisfying read; well paced with plenty of red herrings and false trails to keep me guessing plus of course it had the benefit of a strong sense of the Icelandic mentality and landscape. I also liked the fact this was constructed as a dual narrative – in parallel with the detection story we also have a dreadful, yet engrossing back story of a woman trapped by domestic abuse.
Well worth reading/listening to. I shall be on the look out for more of this series soon.
Rembrandt’s Mirror by Kim Deveraux
This is Deveraux’s debut novel. Like Tracy Chevalier’s hugely successful Girl with a Pearl Earring Rembrandt’s Mirror features a servant girl who enters the home of a leading Dutch painter and becomes their muse. The girl in question here is Henrickje, a young and innocent lass brought up in a strict Calvinist home in the provinces. Entering Rembrandt’s house (which also operates as his studio), she is shocked by his unconventionality and his carnal goings on with another servant. But she can’t stop herself watching – or imagining – and gradually she is drawn closer and closer into his world.
This is a novel set during Rembrandt’s later years which were marked by personal tragedy and financial difficulties. His adored wife Saskia who was a model for many of his paintings has died and he is struggling to regain his artistic inspiration. His housekeeper Geertje becomes his lover but Rembrandt finds her rather too much of a handful and sends her packing. It proves rather a costly move since she sues him for breach of promise and wins. But Geertje’s departure paves the way for the relationship between Henrickje and Rembrandt to flourish. I should add here that this novel is based on fact – these three women did exist and were key figures in Rembrandt’s life.
Naturally the novel is steeped in Rembrandt’s art with each chapter named after one of his paintings and several passages which give us a window into Rembrandt’s way of working.
If I’d been reading a print version, I could have looked up the paintings as they were introduced but it was impossible to do that with an audio version that I listened to while on the treadmill. Another problem I experienced was that the narrative point of view switched between Rembrandt and Henrickje but because I heard only one voice coming through my headphones I was often tripped up by the changes. That wouldn’t have happened with a print or electronic version of course. Overall I enjoyed this and I learned something new about Rembrandt. If it interests you I recommend you skip the audio option.