8 March 2011

Crime Fiction Alphabet - I is for Icelandic crime fiction

I originally thought I'd write this post just about Arnaldur Indriðason but then I thought I'd include Yrsa Sigurðardóttir whose books I have yet to tackle despite all the best intentions.

In the case of both authors English translations are slow to happen but fortunately they seem to have happened in order except for Arnaldur's OPERATION NAPOLEON written in 1999, but only recently translated.


Arnaldur is best known for his Erlendur series and there appear to be 11 in the series now:
As you can see there are still 3 to be translated into English.

My mini-reviews

TAINTED BLOOD (JAR CITY), rating 4.9
A man is found murdered in his Reykjavik flat, a cryptic note left on his body. Erlendur, Detective Inspector with the Reykjavik police investigates. The investigation of the dead man's past reveals 40 year old accusations of rape and the murder begins to reach out like an octopus into Iceland's past and its present. We learn much about Icelandic society, and about how police investigations are carried out. There are some interesting side plots such as Erlendur's relationship with his drug-addicted daughter Eva Lind, his son Sindri Snaer, and his retired colleague Marion Briem. The investigation moves at a good pace and raises some interesting ethical questions.

SILENCE OF THE GRAVE, rating 5.0
Building work on the outskirts of Reykajavik (Iceland) uncovers a body possibly buried alive during World War Two. Erlendur and his team are called in to investigate and try to uncover the truth while a team of archaeologists slowly and painstaking exhume the skeleton. Those who still live in the area tell of a young pregnant woman who disappeared in the war, but is it her? An elderly dying man talks of the green woman who was crooked. At the same time Erlendur is re-living his past - his daughter Eva Lind lies in a coma in the local hospital after a miscarriage and an old woman asks him why he is carrying a young boy around with him. The construction of this novel is intricate and it is almost impossible to solve the mysteries until the very end. Indridason draws into it a fascinating local legend about an orgy at the local gasworks on the night Halley's comet nearly struck the earth in 1910. Translated into English from Icelandic in 2005.

VOICES, rating 5.0
The doorman at a Reykjavik hotel who doubles every year as Santa at Christmas parties in the hotel is found dead by one of the hotel maids, stabbed to death, in his squalid basement room. Christmas is fast approaching and the detective Erlendur is confronted by the problem of how or even if he is going to celebrate Christmas. Is there anything to celebrate? Strangely he moves into the hotel while the investigation of the murder is carried out just feeling he can't go back to his flat. This is Indridason's 3rd novel to be translated into English. It was originally published in 2003 and made it into English in 2006. Erlendur of course eventually solves the murder mystery but along the way we learn a lot about the ghosts of his own past, and gain insight into his relationship with his drug-addicted daughter Eva Lind. And even in the last 10 pages we are still juggling candidates for the killer.

THE DRAINING LAKE, rating 4.7
After an earth tremor, the water level in an Icelandic lake begins to drop as water drains out through fissures in the lakes bed. Eventually it drops low enough to reveal the skeleton of a murder victim, probably there for a number of years and anchored to a piece of Russian radio equipment. The search for the identity of this person is a fairly lengthy and tedious process but murders and missing persons are pretty rare in Iceland where everybody knows everybody. Woven into the murder investigation is the story of idealistic young Icelandic socialists, party members chosen to be educated at university in Leipzig in East Germany, and then also more about Erlendur's own family and his children who flit in and out of his life. Originally published in Icelandic in 2004, the 4th of Indridason's books to be translated into English.

My full reviews:
4.8, ARCTIC CHILL
5.0, HYPOTHERMIA
4.5, OPERATION NAPOLEON

As I said earlier Yrsa Sigurðardóttir is someone whom I have yet to read, but she has already produced an impressive list of titles.
  • Þriðja táknið (2005), (English translation by Bernard Scudder: Last Rituals, USA:2007, UK:2008)
  • Sér grefur gröf (2006) (English translation by Bernard Scudder and Anna Yates: My Soul to Take, 2009)
  • Aska (2007) (English translation, Ashes to Dust, UK:July 2010)
  • Auðnin (2008) (Veins of Ice)
  • Horfðu á mig (2009)
  • Ég man þig (2010)
Yrsa occasionally blogs at MURDER IS EVERYWHERE along with Jeff Siger, Tim Hallinan, Dan Waddell, Leighton Gage, Michael Stanley, and Cara Black. 

According to Wikipedia there are 3 other Icelandic crime fiction writers to look out for, but none of their work has as yet been translated into English:

6 comments:

raidergirl3 said...

Oh, I see that there are still 3 Indridason's left to be translated! and I'm very impatient about it. Hurry up Victoria Cribb!

Margot Kinberg said...

Kerrie - Great choice, I think, for this letter :-). I really hope you'll like Yrsa's work. I think it's terrific.

kathy d. said...

Very good point.

I like Indridasson's work much, with "The Silence of the Grave," "Arctic Chill," and "Hypothermia," at the top, then "Jar City."

I also cannot wait for more translations of his works.

Yrsa Sigurdadottir's books are fun to read. Her main character is a great woman protagonist, stories are interesting. One does get a feel for Iceland's geography and weather.

I hope all of her books are translated, too.

Bill Selnes said...

I had thought of posting a review of Jar City. There were powerful images in the book. Arnaldur creates vivid characters.

Maxine said...

You might also be interested to read Quentin Bates Frozen Out (aka Frozen Assets) about a female Icelandic cop; and Where the Shadows Lie by Michael Ridpath, about an Icelandic-American cop. Both are good reads (neither is translated, though).

Yvette said...

I've just recently heard of these books and picked up VOICES at the library last week. It does look interesting. I don't know why it never occurred to me that Iceland might have some terrific mystery writers.

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