Book Review: Reykjavik Nights by Arnaldur Indriðason

Reykjavík  Nights is the latest book in the Detective Erlendur series to be translated into reykjaviknightsEnglish. It is a prequel to the other books, set in 1974.

Erlendur is a traffic cop who dreams of being a detective one day. He has become fixated with two seemingly unrelated incidents that happened the previous year. Hannibal, a local tramp who he had some contact with through his police work, had been found drowned around the same time that a local woman disappeared, presumed to have committed suicide. No one has connected the two, but something about both stories doesn’t sit right with Erlendur. Did they know each other somehow?

Erlendur does solve both mysteries in the end, but perhaps more interesting for the regular readers are the glimpses into his personality. Already we see the loner character, who does have kind of a relationship with a woman that he isn’t really interested in. His fellow police officers are a little buffoonish and obsessed with pizza, TV and other bad American influences. Reykjavík itself is growing but still unbuilt even in quite central areas. We also get to meet Marion Briem for the first time towards the end of the book.

As the book is standalone, you don’t need to have read all the previous books, but understanding all these references are actually what makes the book interesting, rather than the cases. As with all of the books, being familiar with the local geography and mentions also helps with understanding the context and for this story, how much the landscape has changed in 40 years.

There is another prequel set in 1972 which has not made it into English translation yet, Einvígið. It will be interesting to see whether Indriðason continues with the Erlendur series or starts another one. I found this book to be “good enough” but it felt a little rushed somehow and didn’t have the “wow” factor of a Jar City. As with many authors I like, I’d be willing to wait a bit longer for a really great book.



Book review: Strange Shores by Arnaldur Indriðason

Strange Shores is the latest installment in Indriðason’s Detective Erlendur series. This book is quite different from the others in the series and I think it will be either loved or strangeshoreshated by fans.

There is an ongoing storyline in the previous books in the series about Erlendur’s brother being lost in a snowstorm as a child. Erlendur has always blamed himself for this, but the reader doesn’t know too much about the background of the incident. This book finally addresses this storyline with Erlendur’s return to his childhood home in east Iceland. While he tries to find out exactly what happened to his brother who was never found, he also investigates the historical disappearance of local woman Matthildur, who was also lost on the moor during a storm. As he talks to elderly residents about their memories of Matthildur, will they be able to shed any light on his brother’s case?

I’ve always loved the idea of the brother-in-the-snowstorm story, so this is the book I’ve been waiting for. I managed to hold on to it for three months before reading it. I’m happy to say that there is closure  – I was worried this would be one of those stories that was never actually resolved. I loved this book and preferred it to the previous two which focused more on Erlendur’s colleagues. There is a bit of a last-book-in-series-tying-up-loose-ends feel to this one and I can see how some wouldn’t like the ending.

The reason I think this book could be hated by some is that the overall tone is quite different to the others in the series. Anyone buying it thinking it’s a gritty modern crime thriller will be disappointed. The tone is sad more than scary, and it’s more of a “story” than a crime novel. The mention of Reykjavík on the cover to attract foreign readers is a mistake, as nothing takes place there. This is a book not to be read out of order from the others in the series – you must read this one last.

The normally reclusive Indriðason recently gave an interview to The Telegraph to celebrate the book’s release.

I understand the next book takes us back to 1972 and the focus is on Marion Briem – can’t wait!

Book review – Black Skies by Arnaldur Indridason

Black Skies is the latest book in the series of Detective Erlendur novels to be translated into English. If you are a regular reader, you will know that I LOVE this series and I was really hoping I’d be able to pick up this book in Iceland earlier than the UK release date. I was really thrilled to come away with an “airport edition” size three weeks early!

Sadly, this is where it went downhill. I couldn’t get into this book. I don’t think it helps that we have a different lead character again in Sigurdur Óli. While I warmed to Elinborg more after her lead in the last book, “Siggi” as he hates to be called is less of a likeable lead. Sterotypically America-obsessed, he is newly single and generally not a nice person to be around at the moment.

As in previous books, there is a “main” storyline and a more secondary one. Unfortunately I much preferred the secondary plot, and couldn’t get excited about the mysterious world of bankers, swinging and a quite large cast of interchangeable male characters.

If like me you are desperate to know where the Erlendur story about his mysterious childhood is leading, and what he is doing in the East Fjords all this time, you have to accept that this book does not move that story on at all.

On a positive note I like to read anything set in Iceland and the translation is very good – it was worth a read but I don’t think I’ll be reading this one again.

So, I’m now on countdown to whenever the next translation is coming out…I’m not giving up on these books and hope this one was just a blip.

Book review – Outrage by Arnaldur Indridason

Outrage (original title Myrká) is the latest book in Arnaldur Indriðason’s Detective Erlendur series to be translated into English. The series is written around three detectives: the main character Erlendur, and his colleagues Sigurdur Óli and Elínborg, who we don’t see as much of. One thing they all have in common is complicated relationships with their families. The books are pretty similar in the way they are structured, in that there is a main mystery to be solved and a smaller mystery as a sideline. Sometimes the two mysteries turn out to be connected. There is also an ongoing storyline throughout the series, involving the disappearance of Erlendur’s brother during a storm when they were out together as children. I really enjoy this sub-plot, and the previous book to Outrage, Arctic Chill, ended with Erlendur going back to the Eskifjördur area where his brother disappeared to try and tackle his demons about this incident, which he is still haunted by.

This opened the door for Outrage to feature Elínborg as the lead character. The central mystery revolves around a man who has been found murdered after going out in the evening and picking up a girl. Date rape drugs are involved, which leads the story into the world of rape victims and drug dealers. The killer seems to be identified much earlier in this book than normal, but then there are twists and I couldn’t figure out what actually happened until it was spelled out towards the end.

We learn a lot more about Elínborg’s family life in this book than we have done previously, and also grow to understand why she has such a great love of cooking.  Her challenges with juggling multiple children and a police career make her quite admirable.  These books normally address current social issues such as immigration and this time it includes the evils of blogging!  We find out she has a blogging son Valþór, who doesn’t talk to his family, but in fact talks about them quite badly along with his other problems on his blog, which they of course are reading.  An interesting commentary on the decline of family life and everybody talking online rather than getting together any more.  As someone who has recently started blogging I loved this bit.

I also enjoyed the glimpses into the dreariness of small village life, which are much more interesting to read about than to have to live with.

Criticisms: I was really looking forward to see how Indriðason would manage having a different lead character, but I have to admit I really missed Erlendur, who I think is a much stronger and more sympathetic character, despite perhaps not being as likeable as Elínborg. I feel that there is nowhere to go with Elínborg as a character now that we’ve gotten to know her a bit. Maybe that’s just because she doesn’t have her own mysterious subplot and seems quite straightforward. This is the first full book that Anna Yates has translated from the Icelandic and I must admit that I think that Bernard Scudder’s translations felt less stilted generally and were a bit smoother to read. It’s hard to explain why that is, but sometimes you just notice that what you’re reading probably doesn’t read as well as it should do.  Finally, although the overall storyline was of course dark, I didn’t think it was as creepy in its concept as some of Indriðason’s works.

This probably sounds like quite a negative review, but I did enjoy it overall. I just don’t think it’s as strong as some of the earlier books. I don’t know how long we will have to wait for the translation of Svörtuloft but I’m really looking forward to it already.

As an aside, I don’t read many of the other authors involved in the current “Scandinavian crime” explosion as the books often look quite dry when I flip through them. I only started reading Indriðason’s books after seeing the Jar City film (the first in the series that is translated to English) and would recommend them even if you don’t generally read this genre. You do need to read them sequentially as some storylines develop from book to book. I find them easy to read but with enough plot twists to keep you guessing.