23 August 2010

Iclandic mystery, again

Suddenly, so it seems, I've read 3 books without thinking much or writing anything. What was it that some famous or notorious person said about the unexamined life or unexamined reading experience?

We are back from vacation (for three weeks now).

When we were in West Yellowstone, we visited one of our favorite bookstores, The Bookworm [see the "tower" with the word "Books" on it in the photo to the left -- click on the picture for a larger view]. Shopping there was more difficult than usual because the store was wrapped in crime scene tape for a couple days. We never found out what happened, but there weren't any body outlines taped on the floor inside. (Then again, there very little floor space inside.)

Nance and I each bought a couple books.

I mined the Scandinavian mystery section (yes, there's a table with piles of mysteries by Nordic authors). The first one I read was Silence of the Grave by Indriðason, the Icelandic writer whose main character, Erlendur, is a sad case. But Indriðason's stories aren't as depressing as those of other Scandinavian writers.

I picked this 2002 novel, which is the fourth of ten books with police inspector Erlendur as the primary character. I've read one earlier book and three later ones. Silence of the Grave offers some insight into the Erlendur character and his relationships with his children. It also allows Indriðason to tell a complicated story in which the present reflects the past.

In the murder mystery, construction excavation uncovers a skeleton. Erlendur and his partners are assigned to determine who was involved and what had happened fifty years earlier. Archaeologists excavate the burial, the detectives look at records and interview former residents, and Erlendur tries to excavate the history of his daughter in order to figure out what happened to the child he abandoned when he walked out on his marriage twenty years earlier. And he tries to find a way to save the drug-addicted daughter who has just survived a dangerous miscarriage.

There were moments (especially as I sat by the Firehole River in Yellowstone National Park), when I nearly gnashed my teeth because the stories seemed overly complicated. But the stories were compelling and I kept on reading. In the end, the complexity was worthwhile and the explanations created by bringing together the very disparate details made all the stories in this book come alive.

And the story of Erlendur, his depression and his passivity and his lack of self-understanding, made it possible for me to understand a bit more about his seemingly heartless flight from his family and his relationship with his daughter (which is part of a couple of the later books).

That gets me to the point of suggesting that you read Indriðason's books in the order in which they were written if understanding the Erlendur character is important to your reading of the mysteries. That would mean reading Sons of Dust and Silent Kill before going on to Jar City, Silence of the Grave, Voices, The Draining Lake, Arctic Chill, and Hypothermia.

Looking back at my reactions to the three newer Indriðason books I've read, I'm not as enthusiastic about Silence of the Grave as I was about Voices, The Draining Lake, and Arctic Chill. But it's worth the time. Maybe someday I'll get all these books together in one place and read through them in chronological order.

Then again, there are so many other books to read.

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