Jar City: A Reykjavik Thriller
by Arnaldur Indridason
Review by Ernest Lilley
Picador USA Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 0312426380
Date: September 19, 2006 List Price $14.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
More indeed. The taciturn detective soon finds that Holberg, just shy of seventy when he met his demise, had a past that smelled as rank as the damp flat he'd died in. Accused of rape years ago he'd kept a souvenir taped to the underside of his desk drawer; the blurry picture of the grave of a four year old girl who'd died of a brain tumor. Iceland, it appears, is a gray country where the rain turns things dismal, and despair seeps into the people.
Erlendur has children of his own, more or less grown up now. He'd lost track of them when he left his wife twenty years before and now they've turned up again, mostly looking for money to support drug habits. Though his daughter, Eva Lind, comes by not so much to wheedle drug money out of him, which he doesn't give, but because the two of them have a tenuous father daughter bond that binds them like the ropes of a boxing ring. While the two weave about each other in a dance of connected love and pain, Erlendur's case develops connections that stretch back into the past in its own dance, one of birth and death and tragedy.
Birth and tragedy loom in Erlendur's future as well when his daughter confesses that she's pregnant and asks if she can move in for a while. After she does, she disappears into Reykavik's underworld, and her father follows to find her, uncovering more of the city's darkness. And slowly, by hunch and police work, the mystery of the killings peels back layer by layer, tragedy by tragedy, until Erlendur stands at last by the grave of the little girl in the picture hoping to stop one last death.
Author Arnaldur Indridason won the Nordic Crime Novel Award for Jar City, and again for its sequel, Silence of the Grave, which is just now out in the US. His taut, punchy language, disorienting landscape and emotionally constrained characters create a compelling world for the reader. Reading Jar City left me with an odd mixture of alienation and familiarity, having created a picture of a gray land where depression seems to be the national state of mind on the one hand, and a country of people I'd suddenly come to feel a kinship on the other.
It's a pleasure to have discovered Indridason, who, along with translator Bernard Scudder has created a fascinating portrait of a man and a country foreign to most of us. I'll be looking to read more from this author/translator pairing.