25 March 2011

More cold mystery from Iceland

So, when I returned books to the library, I scanned the "new fiction" shelves as usual. Just in case.

What I found was an oversized paperback of Arnaldur's latest, "Reykjavík Murder Mystery," Hypothermia. (It's a British publication with all the extra vowels.) It was pretty good and the last half was better than the first half.

In fact, I read to about page 60 and then went online to search this blog. Things just seemed very familiar, and I wasn't sure I had hadn't read this book already. But, no, I hadn't read Hypothermia. The main character, the setting (Iceland), the prose, and the pacing all seemed very familiar. In fact, a couple of the "cold cases" in this book were mentioned in earlier books.

When things seem that familiar and the pace of the story telling is a slow march, I have trouble getting enthusiastic about reading. I'd read a chapter and put the book down. The next day, I'd read another chapter. However, things picked up in the last half of the book.

Arnaldur's main character, Erlendur, is off on his own in this story. Things are slow at the Rekjavík cop shop. Erlendur is doing paperwork on a suicide and taking a last look at a couple 30-year old cold cases left over from early in his career. He's motivated, in part, because the father of a young man who went missing without a trace back then is dying.

Of course things get complicated. Details of the suicide don't add up. A guy retires from a career in Denmark and comes home to Iceland. Guess who he used to know. Erlendur is still haunted by the death of his little brother in a blizzard that almost killed both of them. His adult daughter is pushing him and his ex-wife to sit down and talk to each other (something they haven't done for 20 years). There are hints of ghosts and words of mediums.

Nearly all of that is in the second half of the book. And that's worth reading. I don't know how well the second half would stand up without introduction, but I'd guess you could skim the first 120 pages.

Now, there's the issue of counterparts. Dan Conrad noted that Charles Todd's Bess Crawford character (first created in 2009) is strikingly similar to Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs. The first Maisie Dobbs novel was published in 2003. Both women were nurses during World War I and both are independent women who get involved in solving mysteries in London after the war. I haven't gotten around to reading a Bess Crawford story yet, but here's another pair to draw to.

In 1991, Henning Mankell wrote the first Kurt Wallander novel. The Swedish detective has become incredibly well-known. The eleventh (and last) novel is about to come out. There have been television series produced in Sweden and Britain featuring Wallander. And there's a Swedish movie.

Wallander is a morose and phlegmatic man, whose wife left him and whose daughter worries him (in several senses of that verb). He's a passionate detective whose life is centered on finding the facts and explanations behind awful events. He lives in a neglected apartment and doesn't take care of himself.

Arnaldur's Erlandur first showed up in 1997. He's a morose detective, haunted by his past and anxious to explain tragedies and atrocities he confronts as an Icelandic detective. He abandonded his wife and two children long ago and has no clue about finding closure with those people. He lives in a neglected apartment and doesn't take very good care of himself. Books about Erlandur have been published in 26 countries, but none have been made in to television shows or movies. And Erlandur's putative apartment building is not a tourist destination like Kurt Wallander's.

Oh, and Arnaldur is Icelandic and doesn't use a family name. In the UK and the US, his books list him as Arnaldur Indriðason. I guess you can't be an author in the English-speaking world with only one name unless you were a 19th century short story writer or you've established yourself as a performer.

1 comment:

Ken Wedding said...

Dan Conrad wrote:

You raise points here that are worth exploring further.

One is of an author “borrowing” (or is it “plagiarizing”) a character from another author, two cases of which you cite: Charles Todd and his (technically “their”) Bess Crawford, and Arnaldur and his brooding Icellander, Erlandur.

Then there is the issue of authors “borrowing” from their own writing such that you suspect you have read a given book before.

There is a related (or is it the same) issue when an author decides so and so is worthy of a series and then runs out of ways to keep the character interesting.

I finally got tired of Kurt Wallander brooding for most of the book about his daughter, ex wife and the decline of Swedish society and quit reading Henning Mankell’s books entirely.

A few years ago I became enthralled with Rhys Bowen’s fresh and fascinating Molly Murphy, an Irish immigrant lass who, in the quite wonderful Murphy’s Law, sets up a detective agency in New York around the turn of last century. I couldn’t wait for each of the next ones to come out. The tenth in the series is out now and waiting for me on the reserve shelf at the library--and I find myself barely interested enough to bother to pick it up.

All that makes me appreciate even more the genius of my all time favorite author, George Eliot. Dorthea Brooke (Middlemarch) Adam Bede, Felix Holt, Silas Marner, et,al. are completely unique characters facing totally different challenges. Maybe I should just go back to re-reading her novels!