Saturday 23 July 2011


With this novel, Arnaldur Idrisason sends his detective Erlender on leave to pursue his own obsessions in remote eastern Iceland, and leaves to Detective Elinborg the investigation of a young man stabbed to death in his own apartment in Reykjavik. The man, Runolfur, is wearing a woman's T-shirt, a woman's shawl lies under the bed, and a large dose of rohypnol, the date-rape drug, is in his system. As Elinborg investigates, with the sometimes tendentious help of Sigurdur Oli, she's led to a woman who appears to have herself been drugged by Runolfur, and brought back to the apartment. She has no memory of the night, but she called her father for help. Is it a case of modern date-rape leading to murder?

Or is there something else going on? The theme running through Indridason's books is usually about the old Iceland versus the new. Erlender is very much the old, symbolised by his traditional horse-head eating habits. His daughter, with her drug problems, is one representation of the new, and in this novel Elinborg seems to encapsulate the dilemma. She is very much of the new Iceland, a working mother who prefers the life of the 'big' city to the traditional monotony of village life. And as she investigates this case, she gets caught up in the barrier between the mores and values of the village, and those of the big city. Clues deal with foreign cooking, and much is made of the differences between the recipes Elinborg writes about (in her sideline creating cookbooks) and the lackluster diet in the sticks. Food makes for a wonderful contrast, and so does family.

In the investigation, we find family ties playing crucial roles, and the same is true for Elinborg at home. Her adopted son has left the family, and her own son seems set to follow. He's active on social networking sites, where the traditional reticence and privacy of Icelanders seems to have disappeared. Yet her younger daughter, Theodora, takes it all in stride. This precocious child is, in many ways, the most interesting character in the book—full of both modern wisdom and a seemingly ageless attitude toward change.

In effect, Idirason is building Elinborg's character by reflection of those around her; it is not easy, and in fact works best when she clashes with the clumsier police methods of Oli. She works, like Erlender, on instinct, and her instincts are good, and she also seems to be able to use a female empathy in balance with authority to reach some people. Indriason has given her what amounts to a very traditional kind of murder mystery to solve, and, in the end, the solution is something tangential to the main investigation, something that only someone with a sensitivity to Icelandic mores would be able to solve.

But the book's most interesting character remains Erlender, even though he appears only in one or two moments when Elinborg considers him—she reminds me of Wallander or Martin Beck with their mentors at those times. So when it is revealed that Erlender appears to have disappeared: his rented car found abandoned in a church yard, there is, typically for Iceland and for anyone who knows Erlender, little worry. But we know that some sort of investigation is going to follow, and in that sense it's good we've grown a little closer to Elinborg, and enjoyed this novel, because we're already looking forward to the one that will follow.

Outrage by Arnaldur Indridason
Harvill Secker £12.99 ISBN 9781846555503

1 comment :

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