06 July 2013

Thriller waiting to happen

I have to write about the Yrsa Sigurðardóttir book I read a couple weeks ago. Nancy got it for me at the library, I had to renew it, and now it's due again. I did have things to say about it when I finished it, but I've forgotten most of what I wanted to say about The Day is Dark.

It seems that the first thing I have to say about the book is that it was forgettable. That's not new, since I forget about most of the books I read. One of the reasons I began publishing the newsletter Reading, 25 or so years ago was to help me remember what I'd read.

As I look at the book cover, I see that it's labeled as "a thriller." I remember something now. It's not a thriller. There are certainly plenty of settings and opportunities for thrills in a tiny native fishing village in eastern Greenland. The reclusive residents could be seen as mysterious and threatening. The abandoned mining camp outside of the village offers plenty of empty buildings, complicated survival technology, and snowy wilderness. Add to that the reputation the area has of being haunted, the fleeting sightings of an unknown person outside the mining camp HQ, the missing people, and you have lots of ingredients for a thriller.

Fishing village in eastern Greenland
But, Yrsa doesn't manipulate those things in order to instill fear and anxiety in the reader. I can imagine her characters were fearful, but I don't think many readers will be. Her characters, including the Icelandic lawyer Þhóra Guðmundsdóttir (transliterated as Thora Gudmundsdottir), are too busy keeping the generators working, the heat on, and puzzling over the skeleton found scattered in various desk drawers in the main office and the body found in the kitchen freezer. Oh, and they're looking for clues to the disappearance of two of the mining crew. As described by Yrsa, the investigators flown in from Iceland don't have time to be scared. The only anxiety I had was about when the impending threat was going to cause great peril.

The mystery is an interesting one. The story is well-told, but it's not a thriller. Maybe there's an Icelandic word that translates to "thriller," but which has a different meaning in the original.

I also had very picky (and probably unfair) nits to pick about the description of the isolated and self-sufficient mining camp in the wilderness. I'm one of the very few people outside of Australia who reads the newsletter and looks at the webcam from an Aussie research station in Antarctica. [Mawson Station newsletter. Mawson Station webcam.] So I have a somewhat informed image of how an isolated, self-sufficient community operates, sociologically and mechanically. Yrsa's mining camp wasn't cut off from the outside world for most of the year, like the Aussies at Mawson, and the Greenland operation was commercial, but there were things she described that didn't quite ring true. Sarah Andrews spent time in Antarctica on an NSF Antarctic Artists and Writers fellowship to get things right for her mystery, In Cold Pursuit. Yrsa's story might have benefitted from an extended visit to an eastern Greenland mining camp.

All that is minor. The story is a good one. The telling of the story is well-done. It was a great diversion for a few days back in June. Check it out if it's in your library.

Have you read The Day is Dark? How did you react? Write. Tell this little bit of the world what you thought.

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