Saturday, September 01, 2007

New round of scandinavians: Arnaldur

Icelandic crime writer Arnaldur Indridason has a new book out in English translation,
The Draining Lake. Like all the Erlendur books, this one features straightforward investigation by the police plus insight into the minds of others involved in the crime or its aftermath. The new novel also has a certain similarity to the 2nd of the 4 books available in English, Silence of the Grave, in the sense that a very old corpse, really a skeleton, has been revealed (in this case by an ecological disaster: a lake whose level is dropping precipitously, probably because of an earlier earthquake). But where the earlier book deals with family tragedy and abuse, the new one deals with tragic love and espionage (with a uniquely Icelandic twist). The spy story is engaging, if occasionally didactic (on more than one side of the argument): a man in Iceland ruminates about his schooldays in Leipzig during the early years of the Cold War, and the story involves surveillance, the recruiting of spies, and concealed identities. Meanwhile, Erlendur and his cohorts Sigurdur Oli and Elinborg try to figure out who the body in the lake was, weighted down by Russian bugging equipment. Erlendur becomes obsessed with a side issue opened up by the investigation, one of the men who went missing about the time the body went into the lake. Who is in the lake, and what the identity of that missing man is, are the mysteries of the book, and as the cops pursue them, they, too, get on the trail of the espionage tale. As I said, the spy story is very Icelandic, very different in tone and emphasis from Le Carre, yet on that same wavelength in several ways. And as is usual with this series, a melancholy air pervades the book, even with considerable comic effects--in this novel both the mess of Erlendur's private life and the tragic love affair in Leipzig provide the melancholy, but in both cases there is a sense of resolution (more personal in Erlendur's case, more historical in the love affair, through the uprising in Leipzig that began the fall of the Berlin Wall). All in all, the book, as with all in the series, are very satisfying as police procedurals, in spite of the fact that the police don't really discover very much through their own efforts--the frustration of their search, and Erlendur's more personal search for the missing person (missing persons being a major obsession on his part, due to his personal history), are an essential element of the texture of the series. So if you're looking for a thriller or violent noir, or a cozy, this won't be your sort of story. But if you respond to dark tales of investigation and of darker (though sometimes funny or at least satirical) everyday lives (in the face of cultural and historical realities), The Draining Lake is very rewarding--and very well written in a straightforward style that seems to be the norm up there.

1 comment:

highlandladdie said...

I've read a couple of his other books and enjoyed them. There do seem to be quite a few decent Scandanavian crime writers.