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.
Archive for Iceland
On Sunday afternoon, I made a brief trip to the southern coast of the Reykjanes Peninsula in an attempt to watch puffins. According to my guide book, the cliffs at Krýsuvíkurberg were populated with many species of birdlife, including the elusive puffin. However, I could only spot gulls, and more gulls, as I walked a few kilometres along those cliffs and away from the occasional 4WD stopping by the end of a dirt road [my small rental car could not handle that far]. When I was about to turn back, I spotted different birds on a small rock promontory, too far for me to tell the species, and as I was zooming at them, a puffin flew by!, so small that I almost missed it. I tried to see if any other was dwelling in the cliffs left and right but to no avail. A few minutes later, presumably the same puffin flew back and this was the end of it. Even after looking at the enlarged picture, I cannot tell what those “other” birds are: presumably Brünnich’s guillemots…
A very exciting talk today at NBBC15 here in Reykjavik was delivered by Mark Bravington yesterday on Close-kin mark recapture by modern magic (!). Although Mark is from Australia, being a Hobart resident does qualify him for the Nordic branch of the conference! The exciting idea is to use genetic markers to link catches in a (fish) population as being related as parent-offspring or as siblings. This sounds like science-fantasy when you first hear of it!, but it is actually working better than standard capture-mark-recapture methods for populations of a certain size (so that the chances to find related animals are not the absolute zero!, as, e.g., krill populations). The talk was focussed on bluefin tuna, whose survival is unlikely under the current fishing pressure… Among the advantages, a much more limited impact of the capture on the animal, since only a small amount of genetic material is needed, no tag loss, tag destruction by hunters, or tag impact of the animal survival, no recapture, a unique identification of each animal, and the potential for a detailed amount of information through the genetic record. Ideally, the entire sample could lead to a reconstruction of its genealogy all the way to the common ancestor, a wee bit like what 23andme proposes for humans, but this remains at the science-fantasy level given what is currently know about the fish species genomes.