Anyone who knows me will tell you that I have an overwhelming desire to go to Iceland. I have since I was child – it just sounded so far off, a remote and beautiful countryside – volcanoes and geysers. The land of white nights and dark winters with a strange-sounding capital city (equally as difficult to spell) Reykjavik. Move on a couple of years and I discovered the beauty and warmth of Icelandic wool. Lopi (as it’s known) comes from a unique to Iceland sheep, called Lopi, funnily enough. It’s superior to anything I’ve knit with and will keep you wonderfully warm even at sub-zero temperatures.
Anyway, I’m not here to bang on about wool (given half a chance this blog would be about it, but I shan’t bore you). It was purely by accident that I found the Detective Erlendur series by Arnaldur Indriðason. You know the type of accident when you pick a random book in a charity shop and give it a go. I was hooked from the first book (Jar City), and thankfully as series of books go, they’re very much standalone. They’re short reads; I don’t think I’ve come across one of them that’s more than 400 pages long, so they’re very portable and can tuck into most bags, and don’t get into anyone’s face on the tube. Phew. Because we all know how annoying a commute can be when someone is reading Game of Thrones in your face.
I’ve just finished Indriðason’s sixth book in the series: Hypothermia. It’s a gripping read right from the word go. It’s not often I will admit as a crime fiction convert that I get sucked in quite so quickly. It’s a hauntingly breathless tale, that takes no prisoners. Somehow the crime drama is brought to life by the descriptions and use of the stunning Icelandic landscape. Rather than long boring Hardy-esque descriptions, Indriðason uses the landscape to flesh out the tale, becoming intrinsic with the story. Hypothermia is a book that slowly draws you in, wraps a warm blanket around you and envelopes you in intricately woven narrative layers.
Arnaldur Indridasson has for some time been among the cream of the explosion of crime and mystery writing currently emanating from the Nordic countries; A writer who eschews melodrama, keeps his cast of characters concise and tightly drawn and suffuses all of his writing with a slightly doleful understatement.
Indriðason’s skill is in the plotting and pacing of stories; in placing his readers in the landscape and culture of Iceland and capturing the humdrum interweaving of lives, the mundane and everyday conflicts and betrayals, and exploring the small and petty things that people do to each other. The under-stated narrative is driven by a steady pace and emotional register, rather than high tension or drama, with the same questions about love, loss, guilt and life after death repeated discordantly with respect to the cases Erlunder investigates and his own life. The result is a book with qualities like a fine wine – a subtle but complex blend of colours, smells and tastes rather than the whiz-bang of a rollercoaster.
In this book, Erlendur (Indriðason’s splendidly complex detective), carries out a private, informal investigation into a suicide whilst at the same time engrossing himself in the re-invesitgation of two old missing person cases. A line of work that is something of an obsession for him – due to his own brother’s disappearance as a child. The main storyline centres on Erlendur’s efforts to find out what really caused a lady called Maria to die. He discovers that she was a troubled woman, with lingering grief over the deaths of her parents and a fascination with life after death. Erlendur’s progress is steady and his discoveries often minor in nature, but they slowly allow him to piece together a tragic tale that exhibits whole range of human emotions in the various characters involved in it: grief, loyalty, deceit, cowardice, greed, dependency and love. The resolution is as much about recovering and honouring the memory of the lost, as it is about exposing the actions of the guilty.
Indriðason’s mastery of pace and narrative fluency are simply unrivalled (contrast him with the much hyped, highly enjoyable but infinitely more frenetic and long-winded Stieg Larsson). I’ve long felt that Indriðason is among the very best crime writers working in Europe; for me Hypothermia elevates him onto a different literary level.
The Knitty Gritty:
Hypothermia by Arnaldur Indriðason (ISBN 978-0099532279)
Buy from your Local Bookseller, Amazon – or support your local Library!
Jar City – Arnaldur Indriðason (The first in the Erlendur Series)
Someone to Watch Over Me – Yrsa Sigurdardottir
The Redeemer – Jo Nesbø