Note: Indridason was WINNER of the Glass Key Award for Best Nordic Crime Novel in 2002 and 2003, and WINNER of the Gold Dagger Award from the Crime Writers’ Association in 2005.
“In Iceland there’s rarely a real motive behind a murder. It’s an accident or a snap decision…committed for no reason.”
In the fourth of the Inspector Erlendur series, Gold Dagger Award-winner Arnaldur Indridasson creates a challenging and thought-provoking mystery by revisiting the political complexities of Iceland during the height of the Cold War in the 1970s and 1980s. At this time, many Icelandic young people were resentful of the US presence and its huge naval air station in Keflavik, accusing the US of “spreading filth.” While the US and NATO were using this base for strategic defense against possible USSR aggression, many students, often from poor families, were accepting the chance to study in East Germany at the University of Leipzig, then returning home with their socialist and communist messages. For Inspector Erlendur Sveinsson, busy solving contemporary crimes, this past history has been unimportant, but when an earthquake leads to the unexpected draining of Lake Kleifarvatn, a skeleton, weighed down with a Russian transmitter, emerges from the depths, a large hole in its skull. With no other evidence available, Erlendur’s only hope of identifying the remains rests with his investigation of missing persons from the late 1970s and 1980s.
Switching back and forth in time between Erlendur’s current investigation, and the lives, thirty years ago, of a group of Icelandic students in Leipzig, Indridason brings the past into the present by reopening old cases and re-interviewing the people involved. The students who went to Leipzig in the 1970s and 1980s discovered life there to be more difficult than they had imagined. They are expected to report on each other as part of “interactive surveillance,” in addition to attending compulsory “social” meetings and doing a week’s hard labor as “volunteers” during the summers, only to be spied up on themselves. Some give up and leave the university to return to Iceland. Others become even more committed to their socialist and communist goals.
As the two plot lines evolve and begin to overlap, investigators Erlendur, Sigurdur Oli, and Elinborg reveal more about their own personal lives, becoming far more developed than they have been in this series up to now. Erlendur, dour and seemingly unemotional, is still dealing with his drug-addicted children-daughter Eva Lind and son Sindri Snaer – his son now “clean,” and his daughter, who has suffered a miscarriage and undergone rehab, now back on drugs. Sigurdur Oli and his wife also have issues which elicit the reader’s sympathy, while Elinborg adds a happier and sometimes comical note with the publication of her first cookbook.
Atmospheric and filled with the dark stories which envelop its numerous Icelandic characters, the novel reflects main character Erlender’s terse style, his abbreviated dialogue, and his no-nonsense approach to life. Author Indridason develops suspense about the old murder and its connection to the students from the outset and builds it carefully, as bits of information gradually arise in both the present and the past plot lines. The point of view of a mysterious ex-student who has talked about the murder at the beginning keeps the suspense high, and as all the students come to terms with the differences between their idealistic expectations and the reality of their lives in East Germany, their increasing desperation becomes understandable. A first-class mystery set in an unusual time and place, The Draining Lake is an exciting continuation of this series and the characters who keep it fresh. Mary Whipple
Photos, in order: The author’s photo appears on his Wiki page.
The photo of a small volcanic lake in Iceland is from http://mirror-us-ga1.gallery.hd.org/