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Category Archive for 'Iceland'

In his first Detective Erlendur novel to be published in English since 2012, Icelandic author Arnaldur Indridason provides a “prequel” to the entire series, now numbering six novels, and flashes back to establish some of Erlandur’s background, personality, and past history at a time when Erlendur is still in his twenties. In Reykjavik Nights Erlendur has just started working for the Reykjavik police, on the night shift, with two young law students who are working part-time for the summer, and he himself is considering whether to take classes at nearby Hamrahlid College which offers adult education classes. Most of his night-time duties consist of breaking up fights, arresting drunks, attending to the victims of automobile accidents, and reporting more serious events – sudden deaths and disappearances – some of which intrigue Erlendur enough that he follows up, unofficially, on his own. Though he does not consider himself “nocturnal,” he does not object to the night duty, having become “reconciled to the city, when its streets were finally quiet with no sound but the wind and the low chugging of the engine” of the van. A loner who has never established strong connections with his peers, and who seems to have no family, Erlendur makes few commitments, a characteristic which becomes even more dramatic in the novels of his later life in which he is almost pathologically solitary, reflecting his grim vision of reality and even grimmer vision of mankind. As is always the case with Indridason’s novels, he keeps the style clear and sometimes terse, but in this novel, he makes Erlendur more human. By isolating Erlendur from the family he eventually has in the later novels, it is possible to see Erlendur as a person who cares about others when he does not have the family distractions which complicate his life twenty years later.

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WINNER of the 2015 Petrona Award for Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of 2015. Icelandic author Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s prize-winning noir thriller features several murders, all of which take place aboard a large yacht which has been traveling from Portugal to its base in Reykjavik during a gale. This “locked boat” mystery, similar to the “locked room” mysteries pioneered by Edgar Allen Poe and Wilkie Collins, involves characters “locked” in a place from which they cannot escape, and when a murder takes place, both the victim and the killer are among the characters known to each other and to the reader. The author provides hints and clues throughout as the murders take place, encouraging the reader to become emotionally involved in the search for the killer, as possible motivations for murder are discovered for virtually all the characters. Sigurdardottir takes this a step further, keeping her murderer and her suspects on the “locked boat,” while adding an investigator on shore, after the fact – Thora Gudmundsdottir, a lawyer/sleuth who has been hired at the behest of a devastated family.

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The cover description of this novel as “An Inspector Erlendur Novel” is misleading, especially for long-time followers of the dark and damaged inspector from Reykjavic and his grim and often grisly investigations. Erlendur, in fact, does not appear at all, either in person or by telephone. At the end of Hypothermia, the previous novel in the Erlendur series, he has left to go hiking in the sparsely populated East Fjords, taking a break from his personal problems and the frequently horrific problems involving his children, his former wife, and their relationships with him. No one has heard from him in almost two weeks. Elinborg, filling in at the office, is quite different from Erlendur. Living with the supportive Teddi and their two children, Elinborg is a cookbook author in her free time, specializing in desserts, and working on her second cookbook, and she tries to keep the lines of communication open with her children, though her older son, in his late teens, is something of a mystery to her, at this point. Were it not for the nature of the crimes themselves – in this case, the rapes and disappearances of women, the use of rohypnol (the “date rape” drug) to paralyze victims, and a gruesome murder which opens the book – Outrage would come as close to a “cozy” as the darkly noir author Arnaldur Indridason is probably capable of writing. The twisted and often macabre aspects of life seen in the book (and film) of Indridason’s Jar City, for example, have been softened here, reflecting the more feminine, intuitive approach of Elinborg and her efforts to communicate wherever possible with both victims and perpetrators, as she works to solve crimes.

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Two weeks ago, I was lucky enough to attend a film festival where I saw the most important film I’ve ever seen—one which I hope everyone, everywhere, will see as soon as possible! The film is Chasing Ice, filmed by award-winning nature photographer James Balog and his small crew from 2007 – 2012, a full-length film which shows incontrovertibly, through time-lapse photography, that the world’s glaciers are not only vanishing, but are vanishing at a rate so alarming that unless something is done soon, they may truly vanish completely. One glacier studied for the film has retreated more than two-and-a-half miles in just a couple of years and over eleven miles since 1984, with all that water, and the additional melt from other glaciers, emptying into the ocean. The rising water levels, if they continue, will soon threaten coastal land and islands. The book being reviewed here, Extreme Ice NOW: Vanishing Glaciers and Changing Climate, also Balog’s work, was published by National Geographic in 2009, and includes dramatic photos of Balog’s early work at the glaciers, some of which are included in the film of Chasing Ice, along with essays by Balog. (The review includes a video trailer for the film CHASING ICE.)

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A choirboy whose voice was akin to the divine has grown up, as this novel opens, and his life has changed even faster than his voice. Now forty-eight, former choirboy Gudlauger Egilsson has been working for a Reykjavik hotel as a doorman, general handyman, and during this holiday season, as the hotel’s Santa Claus. For many years he has lived in a small room in the basement of the hotel, leading a solitary life with no connection to his family. When Inspector Erlendur of the Reykjavik police is called to his room by the hotel, however, he finds Santa in decidedly compromising circumstances, his costume in disarray, and a knife protruding from his chest. With the dark humor that he has made his trademark, Icelandic author Arnaldur Indridason describes the murder scene and the reaction of his assistants to it, and even prissy readers will be amused by some of their reactions and comments about this dark and ironic scene. And when Erlendur, who has no plans for Christmas, helps himself to the exotic holiday buffet upstairs, enraging the chef, this wild and darkly funny noir novel takes off, filled with terrible crimes committed by seemingly innocent people.

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