By Adele, 03-Oct-2011 16:53:00
Translated by Anna Yates (hbk. Harvill Secker. 12.99)
When Steig Larsson and his gripping novels about Lisbeth Salander were no more than a gleam in a publisher's eye, Arnaldur Indridason won the Gold Dagger for his novel SILENCE OF THE GRAVE and put some cats among some pigeons. How can it be that a foreigner wins our major crime writing prize...that was the sort of question being asked, and indeed after this success, the Crime Writing Daggers have seen to it that there's a special prize for novels in translation. That book was an eye- opener for many people and led the way into a veritable smorgasbord...I'm not bothering with complicated accents here!...of Scandinavian crime fiction that we're all familiar with these days. Back then, it was a revelation. Here was Iceland, a country we knew nothing about. It was like other Scandinavian countries in some ways and not a bit like them in others. The terrain looked a bit like the moon. People ate strange things like boiled sheep heads. And the mountains and the fjords were always there, overlooking the modern city.
The cop in that book and its sequels is called Erlendur. He has a tragedy in his past. He has problems in his private life. He is one of the most believable policemen you'll ever meet. All six of the novels in which he is the main protagonist are well worth catching up with but this latest is interesting because it stars one of his side-kicks, a woman police called Elinborg. The boss is away up in the East of the country and we sort of know, if we've read other Indridason books, what he's doing there, though we're never told. Meanwhile Elinborg, who has a life and problems of her own, has to deal with a horrific murder. I shan't say any more except that her prowess as a cook and writer of a successful recipe book is used to very good effect.
This novel is entirely satisfying. It's not full of whizzbangery and special effects. It's about real people in real situations. It's about family life and the shadows cast by past misdeeds. It's about mothers and children. Fathers and sons, too. It's about rohipnol, the date rape drug and smells you'd find in a garage. Elinborg goes doggedly along the trail till she gets her man and we come to like her more and more and to sympathize with almost everyone. The baddie is horrible but he's humanly horrible, with not even a hint of the supernatural about him. Ordinary human life is what's on show here, and the book is a marvel of economy and lack of frills: an object lesson in how to say things simply and effectively.
It ends with a real cliff hanger which means that I can hardly wait to find out, in the next novel by Indridason, what is going on....nothing to do with this crime but something else.....I don't want to give anything away but I sincerely hope that the author and his seemingly excellent translator aren't going to hang around till they release the next book.
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