Monday, October 18, 2010

Mysteries of the North Country


An Inspector Erlendur Mystery
By Arnaldur Indriðason
Minotaur Books, 2010

I spent last week not in the North Atlantic, as my posts would appear to indicate, but rather halfway up northern Minnesota's Gunflint Trail, in a cabin a stone's throw away from the icy cold waters of Little Ollie Lake. The days were gorgeous for this time of year—unseasonably warm and generally sunny. The evenings did cool off enough to allow the building of a cozy fire in the stove. The nights have already gotten longer, making a perfect setting for this chilly Icelandic murder-mystery.

So I read this one—aloud—to the Weaver while she knitted. Reading the place-names of dozens of Icelandic locales really tested my concentration, and I found that I actually could suss out most of them, in my fashion, after awhile I had even started to unconsciously trill my "r's"!

Arnaldur Indriðason's latest novel (latest novel to be translated into English, that is) continues with the existential struggles of Inspector Erlendur as he tries to deal with his inner demons while struggling with some decades-old missing-person cases as well as a recent suicide. The twist in this book is the introduction of a theme of supernatural events: seances, visitations, and dreams. Erlendur steadfastly refuses to believe in any of it, but is also aware that something is going on; more than one coincidence usually means it isn't a coincidence at all. This a talky book, with lots of circular conversations, often repeated with several different people. The mystery isn't too hard to figure out, the story's strength lies more in watching Erlendur come to an understanding of the chain of events and how the suicide case spurs new insight into the older case. Erlendur is, as usual, haunted by the childhood death of his brother, a death he feels responsible for, and a feeling which was shared by the suicide victim. He is also haunted by his failed marriage and his dealings with his ex-wife and children. There are a lot of dysfunctional family dynamics going on here—Indriðason incorporates them brilliantly in the plot, giving this mystery a definite sense of depth.

A note on the translation: Bernard Scudder, his original translator, passed away a few years ago, being replaced by Victoria Cribb. The dialog seems less fluid; I think Scudder may have had a better touch for this kind of writing. In addition, the book was riddled with typos! They may have rushed the production a bit, I can't recall reading a book that had been so poorly proofread! You might want to opt for the UK softcover edition, hopefully these mistakes have been corrected in them.

By Professor Batty


Anonymous Niranjana said...

Is this a good one to begin the series with?

Blogger Professor Batty said...

Jar City (UK title: Tainted Blood) might be better to start with. There is some continuity in the books, the supporting cast of characters is introduced in Jar. There is also a pretty good movie of Jar City (Netflix has it.)
I've got several reviews of this series on FITK.

Anonymous Niranjana (Brown Paper) said...

I reserved Jar City at my library, and I'm #4 on the waiting list! Maybe it's more popular than others in the series because of the film?

How do I search for your other reviews?

Blogger Professor Batty said...

Just copy and paste "Arnaldur Indriðason" in the blog search window in the upper left corner- several of the books will show up along with a couple of films.

Jar City is probably the best "detective" story, the other ones tend to get involved with Erlendur's inner demons more, a person who likes old-style whodunits might not like them as much although I like them- Voices is especially good in that regard.

Blogger Darien Fisher-Duke said...

What a lovely way to spend a vacation, knitting by the fire in a cabin, being read to no less! I'll bet the relaxation was a welcome contrast to international travel for the Weaver. Hope you post some pic! Reading aloud is an almost lost art that everyone should rediscover. One reader at a time?

Anonymous Niranjana (Brown Paper) said...

My turn for Jar City finally arrived, and I read it in one sitting last night. It was stupendous; thank you so much for this introduction. I instantly reserved Silence of the Grave, and happily, the queue is much shorter this time.
I'll probably pass on the film though--I have a very low tolerance for visual violence, esp. of the gritty realistic sort, and even more so when children are involved.

Blogger Professor Batty said...

Niranjana ~ I'm so glad you enjoyed it! Silence is just about as good and the others are all well done but you may not want to spend so much time in Erlendur's head! There is always a different sub-theme in each one, usually dealing with Icelandic culture. The film is grim, but the acting, direction and atmosphere are all exceptional.

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