On our recent holiday I resolved to read a few books written by local authors, (translated into English, of course).
The first, and best, was Jar City set in Reykjavik and written by Icelandic writer, Arnaldur Indridason. It was written in 1993 and translated into English in 2004, and is first book in a series of eleven featuring Inspector Erlendur, a tired, stressed policeman.
Unlike Harry Hole in Jo Nesbo’s Norwegian crime series, he is not an alcoholic, but has a bad diet, often sleeps in his clothes, and from time to time feels a nasty little twinge somewhere in his rib cage.
He has a conflicted relationship with his drug-addicted daughter, but in spite of all the difficulties in his life he is a dedicated and ethical policeman.
Indridason allows some local history of recent times to filter through his story, but does not create a great sense of place, although I did get a thrill reading about a character who had retired to Stykkishholmur, one of our favourite places in Iceland.
The story is gripping and has several unusual twists, some involving a rogue pathologist, others concerning steps Erlendur has to take to get his daughter out of trouble. I soon learned I could trust him to deal with problems; he mightn’t look much but he can handle himself.
I realise I am about ten years behind in discovering this writer, but I am usually wary of Scandinavian crime and its tendency to linger over sadistic details and child abuse. I intend to read on in this series, but will give up at the first sign of any plot turns that are too upsetting.
I discovered this book has been made into a highly regarded film, in Icelandic, Myrin or The Bog. Rotten Tomatoes described it as ‘a sublimely directed thriller’ and gave it five stars and 95%.
I found the film, indexed as Jar City (2006), an excellent and sombre film, all dark greys and browns. It showed a different side of Iceland from the blue sunny place we enjoyed. Life is hard on the flip side of the tourist trail. We did actually take a back route on our way to the airport at the end of our time there, and passed the very same jail that appears in this film.
I was happy I’d read the book before seeing the film. It was fascinating to see how the screenplay had played with the time line and juggled around elements of the story.
The next book I read was Death Awaits Thee by Maria Lang, written in Swedish originally. She was one of the early 1950’s Swedish Crime writers and was compared to Agatha Christie. Her plots and characters, though are a great deal more risqué than any devised by Agatha.
In this case I had already fallen in love with her characters Puck Bure and Eje, and the irresistible Christer Wijk from the BBC Four series, Crimes of Passion. This I can highly recommend if a setting of Fifties’ fashions and Scandi décor combined with the sub plot of a young woman who is fighting a strong attraction to her husband’s best friend appeals. I was drawn to it when I saw it described as a combination of The Killing and Mad Men. The Guardian was more accurate when they described it as ‘Midsummer Murders Meets Miss Marple in 50’s clothing’.
It was sure as hell better than the book.
And lastly I had high hopes for My First Murder, the first book by Finnish author Leena Lehtolainen, first published in Finland in 1993 and published in English in 2012. She, like Maria Lang, is a prolific author, with another seven books published about her detective Maria Kallio, and three in her Bodyguard series.
This dull, static book gives no insight into Helsinki where it is set, we never see a glimmer of life from the limited cast of characters, and the policewoman/law student Maria Kallio is a self-obsessed pain in the neck. Maybe Leena Lehtolainen’s books have improved over the years. I hope so because she seems to be quite popular in Finland.
Arnaldur Indridason, go straight to the top of the class.