Archive for Iceland noir

Reykjavik nights [book review]

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , on March 26, 2016 by xi'an

While this is the latest book in the Erlendur series by Icelandic author Arnaldur Indriðason, Reykjavik Nights [or Reykjavíkurnætur] is also the earliest in the chronology of the series since it relates to the first years of Erlendur in the Icelandic police and to murders that took place in 1974 in Reykjavik. The book may appeal mostly to those who have already read (the) other books in the series, as it explains very little about Erlendur’s past and the reasons he is so fascinated by missing persons. It is however a great read, despite or thanks to very little action when touring the nights of Reykjavik and arresting drunks weekend after weekend. (There is a slight interlude when Erlendur takes part in policing the 1100 anniversary celebrations of the settlement of Iceland at Þingvellir where the Alþing, the original Icelandic parliament stood.) Actually, I find the detective part less than convincing but it hardly matters since the development of the character of Erlendur is very well conducted. With a constant focus throughout the series on themes like domestic violence and drunkenness. A very pleasant read.

Einvígið [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , on August 17, 2015 by xi'an

Reykjavik2In Roissy (De Gaulle) airport, prior to catching my flight to Seattle, I noticed a “new” Indriðason‘s novel, Le Duel (Einvígið), that has not yet been translated into English. But just translated into French! This is a most unusual novel in the Erlendur series, in that the central character of the series only appears as a young cop in the final lines of the novel. Instead, the mentor of Erlendur, Marion Biem, is conducting an inquiry as to who had killed a young man in an almost empty Reykjavik cinema. Where almost all spectators seemed to have something to hide, if not always a murder… A classical whodunnit?! Not really because this happens in 1972, during the famous Fisher-Spassky duel, and that duel is unrelated to the murder, while the Icelandic police seems overwrought by the event and the presence of Russian and American double-agents in Reykjavik…

I found the whole exercise interesting, creating a sort of genealogy in the Erlendur series, with Marion’s mentor playing a side role and his early training in Glasgow (of all places!), with the re-creation of a 1972 Iceland and the chess match between Fisher and Spassky at the height of the Cold War. Plus a reminder about the tuberculosis epidemics of the 1930’s, where  The detective side of the novel is however less convincing than usual, with clues and fingerprints appearing at the most convenient times. And a fairly convoluted resolution. Still worth reading, especially on a long flight!

Mýrin aka Jar City [book review]

Posted in Books, Mountains, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 26, 2015 by xi'an

Mýrin (“The Bog”) is the third novel in the Inspector Erlendur series written by Arnaldur Indridason. It contains the major themes of the series, from the fascination for unexplained disappearances in Iceland to Elendur’s inability to deal with his family responsibilities, to domestic violence, to exhumations. The death that starts the novel takes place in the district of Norðurmýri, “the northern marsh”, not far from the iconic Hallgrimskirkja, and not far either from DeCODE, the genetic company I visited last June and which stores genetic information about close to a million Icelanders, the Íslendingabók. And which plays an important and nefarious role in the current novel. While this episode takes place mostly between Reykjavik and Keflavik, hence does not offer any foray into Icelandic landscapes, it reflects quite vividly on the cultural pressure still present in the recent years to keep rapes and sexual violence a private matter, hidden from an indifferent or worse police force. It also shows how the police misses (in 2001) the important genetic clues for being yet unaware of the immense and frightening possibilities of handling the genetic code of an entire population. (The English and French titles refer to the unauthorised private collections of body part accumulated [in jars] by doctors after autopsies, families being unaware of the fact.) As usual, solving the case is the least important part of the story, which tells about broken lifes and survivors against all odds.

Icelandic landscape [#2]

Posted in Mountains, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on June 10, 2015 by xi'an


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!!!

voices – strange shores [book review]

Posted in Books, Mountains, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on July 5, 2014 by xi'an

Following my recent trip to Iceland, I read two more books by Arnaldur Indriðason, Voices (Röddin, 2003) and Strange Shores (Furðustrandir, 2010).

As usual, Indriðason’s books are more about the past (of characters as well as of the whole country) than about current times. Voices does not switch from this pattern, the more because it is one of the earliest Inspector Erlendur’s books. Besides the murder of an hotel employee at the fringe of homelessness, lies the almost constant questioning in Indriðason’s books of the difficult or even impossible relations between parents and children and/or between siblings, and of the long-lasting consequences of this generation gap. The murder iitself is but a pretext to investigations on that theme and the murder resolution is far from the central point of the book. The story itself is thus less compelling than others I have read, maybe because the main character spends so much time closeted in his hotel room. But it nonetheless fits well within the Erlendur series. And although it is unrelated with the story, the cover reminded me very much of the Gullfoss waterfalls.

The second book, Strange Shores, is the farthest to a detective stories in the whole series. Indeed, Erlendur is back to his childhood cottage in Eastern Iceland, looking for a resolution of his childhood trauma, loosing his younger brother during a snowstorm. He also investigates another snowstorm disappearance, interrogating the few survivors and reluctant witnesses from that time. Outside any legal mandate. Sometimes very much outside! While the story is not completely plausible, both in the present and in the past, it remains a striking novel, even on its own. (Although it could read better after the earlier novels in the series.) Not only the resolution of the additional disappearance brings additional pain and no comfort to those involved, but the ending of Erlendur’s own quest is quite ambiguous. As the book reaches its final pages, I could not decide if he had reached redemption and deliverance and the potential to save his own children, or he was beyond redemption, reaching another circle of Hell. As explained by the author in an interview, this is intentional and not not the consequence of my poor understanding: ” Readers of Strange Shores are not quite certain what to make of the ending regarding Erlendur, and I’m quite happy to leave them in the dark!”. If the main character of this series focussing more on missing persons than on detective work, what’s next?!