Archive for Arnaldur Indriðason

Harðskafi [book re-review]

Posted in Books, Mountains, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , on December 24, 2016 by xi'an

Just finished re-reading Arnaldur Indriðason‘s Hypothermia (or Harðskafi in Icelandic, for a mountain in the Western fjords central to the series), which I deem the best novel in this series I have read so far. Even more than in the other novels, the crime aspect is peripheral to the story. And even more than in the other novels, the inner thoughts of the main character get exposed and analysed. The story is so well-conducted that it is unclear for most of it that Erlendur believes or not in the supernatural that seems so prevalent in Icelandic culture. The only fausse note is the meeting between Erlandur and his ex-wife, which sounds somewhat caricaturesque. But overall this is a great Icelandic novel.

I remember you [not that fondly]

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , , , , on January 24, 2015 by xi'an

I Remember You: A Ghost Story is another Icelandic novel by Yrsa Sigurdardottir, that I bought more because it takes place in Iceland than because of its style, as I found the previous novel was somewhat missing in its plot. Still, I was expecting better, as the novel won the 2012 Icelandic Crime Fiction Award. Alas, I should have been paying more attention to the subtitle “A ghost story”, since this is indeed a ghost story of a most traditional nature (I mean, without the deep humour of Rivers of London!), where the plot itself is incomprehensible (or inexistent) without taking into account the influence and even actions of ghosts! I know I should have been warned by the earlier volume since there as well some characters were under the influence, but I had thought it was more of a psychological disorder than a genuine part of the story! As I do not enjoy in the least ghost stories of that kind, having grown out of the scary parts, it was a ghastly drag to finish this book, especially because the plot is very shroud-thin and (spoilers, spoilers!) the very trip and subsequent behaviour of the three characters in the deserted village is completely irrational (even prior to their visitation by a revengeful ghost!). The motives for all characters that end up in the haunted place are similarly flimsy… The connections between the characters are fairly shallow and the obvious affair between two of them takes hundreds of pages to be revealed. The very last pages of the book see the rise of a new ghost, maybe in prevision of a new novel. No matter what, this certainly is my last book by Sigurdardottir and I will rather wait for the next Indriðason to increase my collection of Icelandic Noir…! Keeping away from the fringe that caters to the supposedly widespread Icelandic belief in ghosts and trolls!!!

the ice princess [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on May 11, 2014 by xi'an

This week in Warwick, I read The Ice Princess, the first novel of Camilla Lackberg and a book I purchased in Toronto last Fall. I remember seeing the novel fairly frequently in the Paris métro a few years ago and, judging from the banner on top of my edition (“7 million books sold”), it was not only popular in Paris… I actually fail to understand why. Indeed, the plot sounds like a beginner level exercise in a creative writing class, with all possible memes of a detective story appearing together, from suicide, to adultery, to paedophilia, to rich inheritors, to domestic violence, to incompetent bosses, to small town gossip, etc., etc.  The hidden story that is central to explain the murder(s) is just unbelievable, as are some of the related subplots.  And the style is appalling: the two main protagonists are withholding clues and information from the reader, their love affair takes hundred of pages to unravel, the sentences are often unnatural,  or repetitive, some characters are so clichés as to be ultimately unbelievable. Negatives just pile up so high it is laughable. And unbelievable the book got so popular. Or received prizes. Like the 2008 Grand Prix de Littérature Policière for Best International Crime Novel…  (Prize which picked in other times major writers like Patricia Highsmith, Chester Himes, John Dickson Carr, Eric Ambler, Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, Tony Hillerman, P. D. James, Ian Rankin, and Arnaldur Indriðason.) Anyway, this was a very poor beginning to a highly succesfull series and I am glad I read The Hidden Child before The Ice Princess, as the former had more depth and a much better plot than this first novel.

recent reads

Posted in Books, Mountains with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 30, 2013 by xi'an

During my trips in the recent weeks, I managed to read a few books, although nothing spectacular:

Arnaldur Indriðason’s Outrage (Myrká in Icelandic) is a thriller in the Erlandur series, where inspector Erlundur does not appear at all but is replaced with inspector Elinborg who deals with the murder of a drug rapist. And her family problems. The book got a prize in France and its focus on women issues makes it more interesting than the polce story itself, which meanders quite a lot and relies on too many coincidences. But I do like the stuffing no-exit (huis clos) atmosphere. (The above image is the critique in French from Le Canard Enchaîné.) Given that Erlundur has disappeared, this book stands in between other Indriðason’s books, Hypothermia (Harðskafi) and Black Skies (Svörtuloft).

I had mentioned my uneasiness about Hoffman’s The Left Hand of God a few months ago, both because of a very uneven style, a plot borrowing so much to real events and locations, and a highly ambiguous central character. I nonetheless read the second tome, The Last Four Things, following a request from my son. My impression has definitely not improved, mostly again for a high rate of borrowing from existing facts and places (like Chartres used for the papal seat). The title itself is found in many books and comes from a painting by Bosch I missed in Madrid last time I visited El Prado. The characters are mostly the same ones as in The Left Hand of God and they remain shallow and unconvincing. The political plot(s) are of no interest whatsoever. The reunion between Cale and Arbell is botched, to say the least. (And still some people love it!)

Another thriller I quickly read is Susanna Gregory’s Mystery in the Minster, the 17th chronicle of Matthew Bartholomew… In line with the recent chronicles in the series, the book is not worth any level of recommendation. The plots get thinner and thinner, the dialogues and settings less and less realistic for their 14th Century environment, and the resolution is rushed with no even a pretence of disguise for the massive infodump in the Epilogue! It feels like I have already seen it all in previous books: the trip away from Cambridge to gather an uncertain inheritance, the flow of new characters taking an unreasonable interest in Michelhouse affairs, an endless sequence of deaths, poisons, “wanton” nuns, attractive women turning into insane murderesses, fights for life in an abandoned and crumbling church, &tc. Among the many implausible facts in the current volume, the vicar-chorals’ obsession with shoes, speaking of “intelligent, liberal people” as in a 21st Century society, or hiring an actor to play the role of a (long dead) priest for more than a month… I will for certain abstain from buying the incoming 18th chronicle, appropriately planned for April the 1st!

When ordering books from amazon.fr for my daughter, I added Ascension, a manga by Shin’ichi Sakamoto about climbing. I was however quite disappointed by the result, both for the silly plot and for the lack of realism in its climbing connection!

Harðskafi

Posted in Books with tags , on July 23, 2011 by xi'an

Hypothermia is the 6th volume in the “Reykjavík Murder Mystery” series of Arnaldur Indriðason, featuring the inspector Erlunder. The book is hardly a crime fiction book, even less than the previous ones I read, and not so much about society this time as about the personal problems of Erlunder. (The title is the name of a mountain in the east of Iceland where Erlunder’s childhood tragedy occurred. And that could prove instrumental for the resolution of his sense of loss and lack of familial attachments…) The pacing is slow (as in slow food, a positive feature!) and most of the book does not feel at all like a detective story. At some point, I was wondering whether Indriðason was getting into a fantastic novel. While set in the same referential as the earlier novels, this book is very special and original, even though I presume I am missing some Icelandic referential in terms of the importance of lakes and family roots and theatre. In a sense, the weakest point of Hypothermia is the partial resolution of the criminal aspect of the story as it stretches a lot the boundaries of the credible. But the remainder of the story and the re-creation of the past and present familial links of Erlunder is quite quite enjoyable… I would rank Grafarþögn a wee higher because of the intense story of abuse in the background, but still a great book.

Grafarþögn

Posted in Books with tags , , , on April 23, 2011 by xi'an

During my visit to Madrid I managed to finish another book by Arnaldur Indriðason, Graforþögn (La Femme en Vert), which has been translated into English under the rather dull title of Silence of the Grave. While it is an impressive book, by its description of domestic violence and of its impact on the children and grand-children of abusive fathers, it is not exactly a detective story because there is not much in terms of police work… The book is terrifying in the spiral of physical and psychological violence suffered by the family and it is no wonder the book got several awards (Glass Key award 2003, CWA Gold Dagger 2005, Grand Prix des lectrices de Elle 2007). However, having the two stories exposed in parallel, the one of the suffering family in the 1940’s and the uncovering of the grave in the early 2000’s, reduces the plot in the current era to a spectator’s game, the reader being aware of much more than the policemen conducting the inquiry, and suspecting in particular that the body slowly unearthed by the archaeologists can only be one of two members of this doomed family… I must say I preferred Arctic Chill, especially because of the vision it gave of the contemporary Icelandic society, but this novel Graforþögn also contains insights about an older, more rural and just as cruel, Iceland that WWII was going to change so radically.

Timi nornarinnar

Posted in Books with tags , , , on February 26, 2011 by xi'an

I read this mystery by Árni Thórarinsson over last trips to both Montpellier and València. It has been translated into French (Le Temps de la Sorcière) but apparently not into English… As the more famous Indridason I read last summer en route to Vancouver, Timi nornarinnar takes place in contemporary Iceland and brings a similar reflection on the depressed state of (most) Icelandic youths. and the challenges posed by immigration and globalisation… The main investigator in the novel is a now abstinent ex-alcoholic reporter sent to the North as a penance and somehow compelled to solve the mystery of a young actor’s murder. The whole story revolves around a play that should have taken place at the local school of Loftur the Sorcerer (Galdra Loftr) by Jöhan Sigurjönson, whose synopsis seems close to Wilde’s Dorian Gray… The crime elucidation is in the end  and as often less important than the description of the Icelandic society, especially because the solution to the murder is far from convincing. The reporter is sometimes hillarious, often unbearable, and overall unrealistic, but this makes a good read nonetheless, thanks to the secondary characters. (It is easy to find links with Rankin’s Rebus, especially through the relation with the reporter’s daughter and the dependence on alcohol. The subplot about the parakeet is highly silly, though, be warned!)