First, a caveat. I don't read much crime fiction, nor watch a great deal of it on TV, and this was the first modern crime novel I'd read in over 15 ye...moreFirst, a caveat. I don't read much crime fiction, nor watch a great deal of it on TV, and this was the first modern crime novel I'd read in over 15 years. I came to it because of my interest in Nordic culture; it was on a university Scandinavian Studies reading list that had been posted online, I liked the sound of the character and the story didn't sound too gruesome.
It certainly won on the last count; it was quite old fashioned in not dwelling on gory details and whilst there was always ample suspense and something happening, I never felt nervous (despite reading the first 2/3 of it on trains in winter).
There was an interesting cast of characters, seemingly not stereotyped, but not particularly well fleshed out - but then that works fine because if you're stuck with about a hundred people for a few days, you don't get to know many of them that well.
I really like Hanne Wilhelmsen as a character and her mentions of sometimes being in pain and her frustration at not feeling as sharp as she had in the past struck a great chord with me. It was also rather refreshing as nearly all fictional detectives are so effortless in their powers. A first person narrative by a grumpy misanthrope who is forced to engage with people but approaches this in a mature fashion was also a new one on me as far as fiction is concerned.
She could seem like a political correctness stereotype, being a disabled lesbian in a relationship with a muslim, but to me someone in such a situation could easily be a friend of a friend. So that makes her closer to my world, as well as more original, than the average 50-something whisky swilling divorced male DCI character.
Her placement in the situation seemed uncontrived as she was marooned with the group and this was the first time she'd engaged in investigation since retiring from the police years earlier following injury. But, even considering Norway is a small country, there were rather silly numbers of coincidences in people from the train knowing one another previously. The Agatha Christie style denouement was more hommage than an endeavour towards something approximating realism, and it felt a little disjointed in context.
And - this is probably a translator's error - I would be surprised if someone with a child would ever refer to a baby as "it" after being told what gender it was.
The book left me wanting to read one of the earlier Hanne Wilhelmsen books (this is the most recent one) but they are not yet translated into English.(less)
If you're looking for an action-packed thriller, this isn't it. It's a slow and steady piecing together of a woman's life and death as Erlendur gradua...moreIf you're looking for an action-packed thriller, this isn't it. It's a slow and steady piecing together of a woman's life and death as Erlendur gradually talks to various people who knew her. He also digs around in a couple of old missing person cases and muses on old family issues - the disappearance of his brother when they were both children, and at the behest of his adult daughter, his failed marriage to her mother.
The book was a bit spooky, as the dead woman Maria believed in ghosts, but this isn't a high body count, excessively bloody and dark sort of mystery.
I was in the right mood to read something as rambling as this, but can see why it wouldn't suit everyone. It's not what I would have expected from a best selling detective novel.
I'm sure it's a cliche to compare a Scandinavian crime novel with The Killing, but one of the most appealing things about that series was the rounded picture of the lives of the victim and her family that was drawn. This book has some similarities: in retrospect the book was far more about Maria than about the detective.
However, for some reason there is next to no exploration of Maria's academic work in medieval history - although it's alluded to as being linked to her obsessions with death in her past, and ideas about ghosts and the afterlife. Erlendur is so through in talking to people who knew here even a long time ago - so why not read too? Also, it would have been very interesting to read a few "excerpts"!
Erlendur has some originality in seeming genuinely nicer and more personable than many fictional detectives. However, he conforms to a few too many cliches, even to someone like me who reads and watches few detective stories these days. Nevertheless, the book passed the time and I would consider an Indridason again if I needed some light reading.(less)