19 January 2010

Icelandic treasure

Last August, I was mildly interested in Arnaldur Indriðason's Jar City. In September, I read Indriðason's The Draining Lake. I remember liking it, especially because there was more going on in the book besides describing a mysterious death and unraveling the clues leading to an explanation. I wanted to read more of what Indriðason had to say.

Another of the books I picked up at the pre-Christmas sale at the Carleton bookstore was Indriðason's Voices. It turns out that this book was written after Jar City and before The Draining Lake. Well, now I may have to go back and reread both of them.

Voices is a very good book. Maybe I missed things in the other two. I did comment when writing about Jar City as a "nice" book, that there was another story going on that involved the main character's daughter. After reading Voices, I want to read about that more carefully.

The complexity I mentioned when I wrote about The Draining Lake exists in Voices as well. I want to go back and see if there are things I missed in that complexity.

Why did I like Voices so much?

Well, first of all, I would have titled it Ghosts, even though Voices is a direct translation from the Icelandic title Röddin. Ghosts would have been misleading because it's very much not a ghost story. But nearly every character in the book is haunted by people and events from the past. And they're not haunted in subtle, Freudian ways. Their everyday behavior is directed and controlled by their memories.

At first the story appears to be about a random murder with no motive and no suspect. But as main character Inspector Erlendur asks questions, things get more and more complicated. And when people begin telling more truths, the murder case gets even more complex. Before long there are many possible motives and suspects.

The mystery story is a story that is well-told and unfolds as Inspector Elendur asks questions and thinks things through. I felt like I shared with Elendur the gradual revelation of what really happened in a dark hallway in the basement of one of Reykjavik's hotels.

But there are many other stories in this book. They're about abandoned and abused children. It turns out that the murder victim, some of the suspects, Erlendur, his daughter, one of Erlendur's colleagues, a boy featured in a sub-plot, and a couple other characters fall into the category of people handicapped by abuse and neglect.

Inspector Erlendur is disturbing to me as a character with no ability to reflect on his own behavior or break out of destructive patterns even though he knows he should want to. The backstory in this book helps explain that character and his incredible relationship with his children, especially his daughter. That father-daughter relationship develops in this book and that makes me want to go back to Jar City and be reminded what was said about it there.

As in The Draining Lake, there's an interplay between the mystery story and the back stories in Voices. Since the stories this time centered around parents and children, I am tempted to dig out Hamlet (last read on a rainy day in Copenhagen nearly 20 years ago) and reread that as well.

All this wondrous complexity suggests that there are more interesting stories in others of Indriðason's books. He's written 13, ten of which have been translated into English. I have Arctic Chill (2009) on my bedside table and some re-reading to do. Indriðason could become a project for 2010.

Carol Stoops recommended Jar City. Thank you, Carol. Jar City led me to The Draining Lake. Anybody read any other of Indriðason's books and have comments? Write and tell this little bit of the world what you think.

See also:

1 comment:

Maxine said...

Thank you for linking to my review. I have read all of the Arnaldur Indridason books so far translated into english, in order these are: Jar City (actually the third, two previous have not been translated), Silence of the Grave, Voices, The Draining Lake, Arctic Chill and Hypothermia. I've reviewed most or all of these for Eurocrime website at www.eurocrime.co.uk. I love these books, as detailed in my reviews. I hope you like the others too, when you read them.