Monday, February 22, 2010

Reading Journal: Icelandic Mystery Kick

As usual, I’m reading way more books than I have the patience to diligently review. I’m not sure I’ll ever find a great way to combat my lazy blogger complex. I love blogging, but the bottom line is I love reading more. And as I’m basically a hibernating book bear during winter—and this winter has been a very serious winter—I feel like I’ve done nothing but read. Suddenly, I woke up and it’s the end of February, I’ve read 39 books, and I’ve only reviewed 4!

In January, I was on a huge mystery kick, looking to fill the void left by The Likeness and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Luckily, I stumbled onto Icelandic author Arnaldur Indridason’s Erlendur Sveinsson series, which currently consists of five books (at least that are published in English): Jar City, Silence of the Grave, Voices, The Draining Lake, and Arctic Chill. I plowed through these bad boys thanks to the library across the street from my house and the first Mystery Read-a-thon of the year.

This series is listed on as the “Reykjavik Thriller Series” and I can’t say that I agree at all with this moniker. I’m no expert, but these books just don’t have the quick-paced, solve-it-or-die-trying plots of what I would consider a “thriller”. But that’s not to say that the books aren’t engaging and consuming. Jar City caught my interest mainly because the setting is so different than any I’ve encountered in my reading. It was interesting to learn about Iceland, its policing system, and personalities. The book was a quick read, which I want to distinguish from quick-paced, as nothing Erlendur does ever seems very urgent. I read this back in the beginning of January and nothing in particular stands out to me about this book, other than one interesting twist dealing with genetics and the explanation of the title. But the beginning of a very intricately drawn character was in the making, and that convinced me to continue reading the series.

I was hesitant after Jar City, after reading Silence of the Grave I was hooked. In this second installment, Erlendur is charged with identifying a body found at a construction site. Literarily, this is arguably the best in the series. The story shifts back and forth between the present investigation and the unfolding story of the victim at the construction site. As Erlendur slowly unravels the mystery in the present, the tragic details of the family that once lived on that plot of land unfold.

The rest of the series is excellent as well, delving further into the unforgiving past of Erlender while engaging in a series of interesting murder mysteries. In Voices, a former boys choir prodigy is found murdered (in a rather compromising position) in a hotel basement. In The Draining Lake, Erlender must figure out why a body with a hole in its head was tied to a Russian spy radio and dropped into a lake, taking the reader into an East German communist school well before the wall came down. In Arctic Chill, an immigrant boy is stabbed and killed outside his apartment home—throwing the people of Reykjavik into an us versus them scenario.

Individually, I rated each book four out of five, but over all I give the series five out of five. The continuing character development throughout the series adds immense value to the reading experience. Overall, this is a must-read for mystery readers and I recommend it to any reader, generally.


Rachael said...

glad you made another post. we want more.

RuthDFW said...

Thanks, the series sounds great.

Beth F said...

oh I am definitely going give Arnaldur Indridason’s Erlendur Sveinsson series a try.

TStevens said...

My wife and Iread all these books prior to a vacation to Iceland (which was great btw). Jar City was made into a movie in Iceland called Myrin (with subtitles) and it follows the book pretty closely. It will give you a good impression of the landscape.

Another Icelandic mystery writer that you can find in English is Yrsa Sigurdardottir. I think her third in the series just got released in English.