Jar City by Arnaldur Indridason
This is the first book in Arnaldur Indridason’s acclaimed Inspector Erlendur series. You may remember how much I enjoyed Ragnar Jonasson’s Icelandic crime novel Snow Blind (you can read my review here). After I posted my review of Snow Blind, one commenter recommended I check out Indridason’s books. I’m glad she did, because the book was excellent. In fact, at the time of this writing, I’m almost done with the second novel in the series.
In Jar City, the reader meets Inspector Erlendur of the Reykjavik police department after he is called to a dingy basement flat to investigate the death of its only occupant, an old man by the name of Holberg. Two young boys living in a flat above Holberg discovered the body. Holberg died from a head injury inflicted by a heavy ashtray; there is no clue to the identity of the killer except a note found with the body. The note states merely, “I am him.” Hidden under a desk drawer in the flat is a photograph of a gravestone. There is no indication where the grave might be or who is buried beneath it.
What follows is a riveting story of Erlendur’s quest to find out everything he can about Holberg’s past, why someone would have wanted to kill him, and who that person might have been. Erlendur and his team of two other detectives discover Holberg, who was a lorry driver at the time of his death, hides a chilling and violent history. A long-ago associate of Holberg’s has also been missing for years, and Erlendur believes he knows where that person might be. Holberg’s death, the missing associate, and the photograph of the grave are all somehow connected, but the detectives struggle to obtain answers from witnesses and victims who are reticent to talk.
Erlendur’s attempts to solve the murder are interspersed with accounts of his life outside the police station, which is also quite bleak. He is a loner, a divorced man in middle age who left his wife and children when the children were very small. He has a tempestuous relationship with his adult daughter, who, like her brother, is drug-addled and scarred from Erlendur’s abandonment.
Geographically, Iceland is not technically part of Scandinavia (which includes Denmark, Sweden, and Norway). Culturally, however, Iceland (along with Finland and the Faroe Islands) is often considered part of the Scandinavian region. This may explain why Icelandic fiction is so similar to Scandinavian fiction. Consistently recurring themes mirror the weather: dark, bleak, and chilling. This is a highly atmospheric book that takes Erlendur and the reader from the docks of Reykjavik to Iceland’s Genetic Research Centre to the opulent home of a well-known researcher.
The author’s prose is direct and sparse in a way that lends a layer of authenticity and depth to the motif of darkness and gloom. If the prose were flowery or verbose, the reader would find it jarring and incongruous.
Please note: this book is not for everyone. It is gritty and fierce. It covers subjects including rape, graphic murder, and childhood disease and death. There is plenty of foul language.
I do recommend the book to anyone who likes a disquieting, atmospheric mystery that doesn’t hold back when it comes to difficult topics. I listened to the audiobook version of the story and I couldn’t imagine a better narrator than George Guidall.
From time to time I share with my readers news of my friends’ releases and sales. For the most part, I haven’t yet read the books. If I have, I’ll be sure to tell you.
This week my friend CeeCee James has a new book out. The Curious Case of Emily Lickenson is the first book in the Emily Lickenson Cozy Mystery Series and you can grab a copy for 99¢. Click the link below to read more.