Mad Scientess Jane Expat (nanila) wrote,
Mad Scientess Jane Expat

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Arnaldur Indriðason - the Erlendur mysteries

In preparation for our trip to Iceland at the end of July, the bloke & I decided to sample some literature that might be informative about the culture and the landscape. This included such highbrow offerings as the diaries of poets W.H. Auden and Louis McNiece, Letters from Iceland, partially written in verse form. Most importantly, however, the package also included a crime novel by the Icelandic writer Arnaldur Indriðason.

His works are all set in Reykjavik. We were hoping they might give us a sense of the city’s geography. They didn’t. They left us with the impression that city is populated by three types of people:

  1. Gruff red-haired chain-smoking detectives living off takeaways in dingy flats, devoting their energies to solving grisly murders while letting their personal lives go to hell in handbaskets.

  2. Their gruff drug-addicted leather-jacket-wearing loud-mouthed unhelpful children, who live off takeaways in dingy flats.

  3. Gruff chain-smoking unhelpful citizens who may or may not be killers, living in dingy flats.

Despite the lack of navigational assistance and the dubious English translation, we both devoured Jar City, the introduction to Erlendur (see Type 1 on the previous list). I can report that the translations improve in later works. It gave us a flavour for the character and rather dark humour of Icelanders. Erlendur stomps about in a gloomy funk, persistently interviewing recalcitrant witnesses, prodding suspects into incriminating themselves, getting into fights with his daughter and nursing a terrible secret in his troubled bosom. This terrible secret is slowly revealed over the larger story arc in the novels and allows the reader to understand Erlendur’s motivation and insecurities. Underneath that surly exterior is a soft-centred sensitive gentleman. It’s a classic trick for making hard-boiled detectives lovable, and Indriðason applies it masterfully to Erlendur. If you’re looking for a quick, engaging read and can handle discussion of unpleasant psychological disorders as well as a few gruesome but (thankfully) sparingly used physical descriptions, you may wish to give Indriðason a whirl.
Tags: iceland, reading, travel

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