Four years after the events of Entanglement, Prosecutor Szacki is more misanthropic than ever, transferred at his own request to the cute historic touFour years after the events of Entanglement, Prosecutor Szacki is more misanthropic than ever, transferred at his own request to the cute historic tourist town of Sandomierz, South East Poland, and unsurprisingly divorced from Weronika. Funnily enough, a bourgeois town of 25 000, not in the hinterland of a major city, doesn't have much interesting work for a big-shot from the capital. Though - in a typical dash of metafiction - it is the setting for a cosy mystery TV series, Father Mateusz. Szacki now misses the colleagues in Warsaw he complained about in book 1, but is still typically unflattering when he remembers them. He doesn't like anyone he knows in Sandomierz. And he's bored.
Until a murderer raises the spectre of the Jewish blood libel, planting a corpse, and a knife used in kosher abbatoirs, in the grounds of a pre-war synagogue. And this in a town not far from the site of shocking pogroms against Holocaust survivors attempting to resettle, and notorious for a church painting about the destructive myth which the authorities had, until 2014, repeatedly refused to accompany with an explanatory, apologetic plaque.
Miłoszewski has made the smart move here of having his close third person narratives focus on a number of other characters, as well as on Teodor Szacki, giving the reader respite from the prosecutor's constant evaluations of other people's, and sometimes his own, appearance (which even to someone who will admit to having an inner Trinny and Susannah are excessive and boring, as well as creating a subtle aggression) - and from his 'grass is greener' dissatisfaction with everything. His personality may be connected with negative traits of Polish national character as mentioned by others in the book, such as 'spleen', and a tendency for people to sound like they're complaining when they aren't really. He's not the most loveable of misanthropes - and doesn't have the troubled background that may have made him more forgiveable - but there are signs of mellowing as the book progresses, and he gets a couple of kicks up the arse, from a date, and then from seeing himself on TV, where he looks considerably more pathetic than his hardboiled self-image.
But more than the protagonist, the selling points for this trilogy are the standard of writing and translation (at the better end of modern genre procedurals, comparable, among what I've read, with Arnaldur Indriðason) and the historical and local content, a boon to those who like to use fiction as a way to learn about other countries.
As before, the political comment is more overt than in typical Nordic plots. It's mentioned several times that educated Poles are paranoid about being and sounding anti-Semitic, and the prejudice is far more common than here, shown bubbling under the surface of mainstream society, almost reminiscent of black-white tension in the US, or British liberals' concern and confusion about sounding islamophobic - although the contemporary Jewish population is small, due not only to the Holocaust, but emigration after an outburst of government anti-Semitism in 1968. Miłoszewski used recent academic research into Polish anti-Semitism as a source; it would still be interesting to know the opinions of readers in modern Poland. (Google Translate again.) Szacki and his colleagues worry about things being anti-semitic when they aren't (Jewish comedian style jokes, a rabbi's story about an honest old man who doubted he'd have been as brave as his rescuers during the war). Then, annoyed by reporters and cranks in a press conference who treat the blood libel question with unbelievable seriousness, the prosecutor, who has already explained his anti-racism in serious terms (and who is nostalgic for a more cosmopolitan pre-war Poland), loses his temper and makes bad-taste sarcastic remarks. Local right-wingers take him seriously and approve; whilst there isn't an outcry, his boss takes him off press duties.
The plot is relatively gory, but as it has an obvious political and historical point it wasn't gratuitous in the manner of random serial killer stories. It's also a little smoother in its workings than its predecessor. The hints of the uncanny on the periphery of the story - from a writer whose first book was a horror novel - are present as in book 1. There is a sense of sly references being used which I don't know enough to spot, though I wondered if placing the eccentric rabbi in Lublin evoked Isaac Bashevis Singer.
I'd heard of this book long before I expected to read it; it was the subject of a few articles because the authorities in Sandomierz were angry about it. As a more religious and conservative society, they aren't happy to capitalise on darker crime fiction as a potential asset in the way of some Scandinavian towns; besides the issues highlighted re. the blood libel painting in the church were not resolved.
However, as this series has so much detail about the past and everyday life it would be a good one for potential tourists to read if they like crime fiction. And if you like some history and politics in with a well-constructed contemporary procedural and can stand a detective who's not the nicest, these are good. The Szacki books have also made me laugh more than other recent procedurals I've read. It's a bit of a shame there's only one more - not yet translated - but leaving it as a trilogy seems an admirable decision by a good writer who doesn't want to limit himself....more
"You mustn't believe what you see on TV. In this country it's the prosecutor who conducts the serious inquiries. The police help as much as they're to"You mustn't believe what you see on TV. In this country it's the prosecutor who conducts the serious inquiries. The police help as much as they're told to, but all they do on their own is chase car thieves and burglars." "Surely you're exaggerating." "A little," smiled Szacki.
If crime fiction can be good for giving a picture of a country and society - including the mundane and grotty stuff away from the tourist traps - Entanglement is top-notch. There's satisfyingly realist detail about the characters' work (they actually have to deal with several cases which started at different times and which don't turn out to be related). Each chapter opens with a series of news headlines for the day - the story takes place in June 2005 - and we also get some history when Prosecutor Szacki digs around in archives from the Communist era. There are metaphors and idioms and sayings which are obviously local (thank goodness for translators who don't try and transpose everything into English ideas) and a lot of locations and descriptions as lifelong Warsaw resident Szacki drives around his city. (Unfortunately there aren't maps, as were obligingly provided in some of Arnaldur Indriðason's Erlendur novels - but I enjoyed looking things up and by the second half of the book had built up a sense of where recurring places were in relation to one another.)
In the last year or so, a handful of jounalists keen for the new hype thing, and sales-hungry publishers, have touted Polish crime fiction as the new Nordic. Whilst there is apparently a boom in Poland, there isn't much of it around [as yet] in English - plenty of Goodreaders and book bloggers could, if they wished, finish the lot in two or three weeks. (Two of the Teodor Szacki trilogy, two standalones from Stork Press, four from the Eberhard Mock series, and two by Anya Lipska set among Polish expats in London and written in English.) For the noir side, yes, it could compete if there are more series as well-written as Miłoszewski's - but to those who read Nordic as part of a dream of living in well-run countries that share many of their personal principles, a Polish setting may not have quite such strong appeal. Catholicism is strong, and religious conservatives are numerous and noticeable: anti gay rights protests and politicians are a major theme in the news bulletins, and homophobic and anti-Semitic remarks are tolerated more than in Britain - though Szacki never makes them himself. Problems of the past loom large on a national political and social level - not only in the mind of one angsty detective. Whilst there are a number of female characters in senior jobs, this is still evidently a more sexist society than Scandinavia at the same point in time. A quarter of an hour washing-up, if he wanted to make the promised breakfast. God, how tired he was. Instead of sleeping until noon and then watching television, like all the other guys in this patriarchal country, he was trying to be a super-husband and super-dad.
Like most contemporary crime fiction I've read, Entanglement has a metafictional aspect in which characters refer to crime novels and what people typically do in them. This is done in a more sophisticated manner than some (the standard of writing here is generally comparable to the better Nordics I know such as the Erlendur series, and at times more imaginative in terms of sentence-by-sentence style). During a conversation, Szacki mentions he's a fan of Lehane, Chandler, Rankin and Mankell. An underlying wish to be an old school hardboiled detective comes through in the misanthropic, critical way he talks about many people, his perennial dissatisfaction and in the "woman who walks into the office" trope - though thankfully there's no use of the trad-noir writing style, which I can never take seriously thanks to multiple viewings of Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid before I ever saw the real thing. Some GR posters refer to the influence of Rebus and other British crime novels; I'm not sure I've ever read more than the odd Ian Rankin short story, so can hardly comment, except that Szacki likes classic rock, as Rebus is known to. The social and political dimension, and procedural structure, of Nordic crime fiction is most definitely here though. The strand relating to old spies initially brought to mind the Millennium Trilogy [seen 9h film version, don't plan to read the books]. (view spoiler)[I wondered if the necessity of compromise under pressure, cover-up, and talk of corruption, related to the Italian novels Monika mentions: Camilleri and Leon. At any rate, most un-Scandinavian. (hide spoiler)] It's odd after all this to have the Christie style big reveal and speech at the end; this is a book which moves between the realist and the theatrical and traditional in a slightly different way from anything else I've seen so far. I wasn't quite sure about the set-piece ending, but it had been so long since I'd read one that it was hard to mind too much.
This is as good a read as the Scandinavian stuff, and just as addictive - I started book 2 a few hours after finishing this one - but rather than recommending Entanglement unreservedly, it's fair to mention that Szacki has traits liable to annoy some readers. He's not quite into the territory of sounding psychic, but he's often aware of an 'itchy brain' feeling, knowing his subconscious must have picked up something he hasn't realised on the surface, and when things click, he follows them doggedly when there may not be enough evidence to justify this to others. Whilst there's not a great deal of respect for the church in the novel, there is a little space for aspects of the unexplained or supernatural, such as a minor subplot involving a clairvoyant. Those who hate plots where detectives contemplate or have extra-marital affairs should probably avoid this one too.
Szacki is pretty misanthropic, he's never entirely happy with anything or anyone, and in his close- third-person narrative is often critical of others, sometimes switching back and forth quite fast between positive and negative opinions of people close to him. He's pretty vain, cares a lot about appearances, and is often to be found assessing his own and others', whilst rarely saying so out loud. There could easily be 20 pages of thoughts on fellow characters' looks and dress in here, and it’s tedious even as someone who might notice similar things. He never fails to notice how a man is dressed, if he's in better or worse shape than him, is generally ugly or good looking. As a straight man who's starting to want out of his marriage, he does spend more time on women's appearances, and can be quite rude (which may rile some). The author doesn't always let him get away with his appearance critiques: e.g. Szacki fails to understand that a man ten years younger looks like someone in a 1970s East German film not because he's a nerd with no style, but as part of a retro subculture. Szacki may not articulate all these thoughts, but he’s still brusque enough that other characters call him rude several times, to his face.
The prosecutor is quite a hardcore gamer in his spare time, and this novel features the most detailed descriptions and conversations about gaming I've seen in a book that doesn't set out to be part of geek culture. In one instance he coaxes a teenage witness to open up via a multi-page conversation about Call of Duty. Considering how many real people are gamers, it's odd how little you see of it as a hobby in general fiction.
I was hugely impressed by Miłoszewski’s invention of a curious form of group therapy for the plot: a writer whose bio mentioned no study of psychology had got all kind of nuances spot on, the good – and the bad, including the way that some therapy theories go too far by ascribing physical illnesses or complex conditions such as autism solely to psychological nurture factors. Then a founder was referenced, and I searched – it was real, just not common in Britain (though presumably better known to those who’ve taken an interest in Gestalt, to which Family Constellation therapy is related). Tangible non-verbal phenomena such as body language and facial expression, as well as things actually *said* can subconsciously remind a person of someone else and lead them to fall into patterns, providing a rational explanation for transference. And likewise, understanding of how the body is mapped in the brain, mirror neurons etc show how mirroring or adopting someone else’s posture can, especially in more sensitive people, replicate an emotional state. But I find the principle behind FCT difficult to accept, that very strong transference and projection could occur between random strangers and enable them to take on emotional states of the relatives of another therapy participant they'd never even spoken to – let alone that this could have an effect on those relatives’ behaviour via any means other than changes in the way the participant related to them. Workshops taking place over a weekend do help some people, but plenty of things take longer, especially the sort of complex dynamics this deals with. Having read the acknowledgements, I got the feeling that the author or someone close to him had a positive experience of this type of therapy, which led him to put it in the book – although the plot shows it in an ambiguous light. I have an attitude to things like this more like the approach many people would have to food or sports – if circumstances allowed, it would be interesting to try it, simply for the experience, with no expectation of it changing anything. It could just be an odd form of amateur dramatics, or something curiouser.
Ingenious though it is, I think there is a flaw in the plot. (view spoiler)[Driving someone to suicide via a perverted use of psychotherapy seems a very chancy, inefficient form of murder. Especially when the object is well off and well connected, and could easily find and afford a different therapist if he had doubts about the current one. Plus – this guy was in the secret service. He may be upset due to bereavement, but secret police don’t exactly choose their personnel based on emotional sensitivity. Ultimately he’d surely have a core of resilience that would make him way harder to crack even than the average person. You’d expect someone of the murderer’s age in that country to think of that. Although there is poetic justice in the idea of brainwashing a former secret service agent. (hide spoiler)]
Grumpy bloke Szacki isn’t the most original detective ever, albeit he has a number of distinguishing features. However, there’s a lot of other unusual material, and some pretty good writing, in Entanglement to set it apart from the average procedural. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
These are addictive; it's wonderful, and a near-forgotten pleasure, to devour books reflexively as I did when I was a kid. I've been moving the next oThese are addictive; it's wonderful, and a near-forgotten pleasure, to devour books reflexively as I did when I was a kid. I've been moving the next one in this series from room to room for the past couple of days whilst I make myself finish a couple of other things first. I saw a review of another series (Ruth Galloway - after the archaeological element in Silence of the Grave - more archaeological mysteries really appeal) and the poster said they'd read all six novels in less than a fortnight - I could understand that happening with these Erlendur books...
Silence of the Grave starts with a stonking first line: He knew at once it was a human bone, when he took it from the baby who was sitting on the floor chewing it. Superbly sinister and grubby. Yet this is a nice middle class household; 'he' is a medical student and family friend.
I was quite swept up in this story, and it would have got 4.5 stars had it not been for a little cliche on the last page - which I'd hoped all the way through that the author wouldn't succumb to. It's at least as good a novel as Jar City, but there are no sociopolitical points I disagreed with. Both won the Nordic Glass Key in successive years, and Silence of the Grave also got the CWA Gold Dagger; I'm starting to get a sense of what characterises award-winning crime books: whilst they are a cut above some detective novels, they aren't necessarily 100% realistic, or free from genre tropes or the odd flaw (and the writing style may not satisfy those who expect something literary or stylistically notable), but they are very involving if you're in the right mood, and there's something out of the ordinary about the plot.
Erlendur, Elínborg and stray yuppie Sigurður Óli, during a quiet period for the force, investigate c.70 year old human remains found on a building site. There's zero urgency to the case and this is no action thriller, yet Indriðason maintains suspense throughout as to whose grave it is, whilst the pathologist is on holiday and a meticulous archaeologist takes his time over the site. There's skilful placement of detail about the gradually uncovered skeleton, in the flashback story of a woman and her children subjected to severe domestic violence, and rumours about the missing fiancee of a merchant who'd once had plans to establish Iceland's first supermarkets.
It was this book plus the chapters in Small Island about Queenie's job, and the routine, regional-news type crimes in early 2000s Danish TV series Unit One that made the penny drop that what I was really after was social work procedural, presented not as misery-memoir, but in the same matter of fact yet not unempathic way that these crime novels are written. Though of course crime solving presents more suspense, and a tidy conclusion in the way stories from many other public service occupations wouldn't. I don't like stories of serial killers, torture and gore though might read some, hopefully not very graphic, because I'm interested in the detective protagonist (I also don't quite get why some reviewers comment on how dark social realism like this is, but not serial killer novels.) What I'm finding most interesting in crime fiction are political thrillers quite removed from most people's lives, or the other end of the spectrum, storylines where the crimes emerge from a world of social exclusion and generational cycles of psychological issues.
Silence of the Grave adds to the latter a historical and archaeological theme, so of course I was riveted. The story of the abused family dates only from the inter-war period, but the conditions of Icelandic life at the time make it seem potentially much older; its rural grit - and that of Erlendur's early life - is much like the environment in working class Scottish fiction of the nineteenth and earlier twentieth century. It has some differences from insightful stories of contemporary Western domestic abuse, because the woman is someone who, with access to modern services, would have got out fairly early on; she didn't come from an abusive background herself, doesn't want to stay, and took longer to succumb psychologically to her husband's aggression - it's the complete absence of support and protection that makes her so stuck. The book mentions once or twice that domestic violence services in Iceland are still inadequate (which is surprising given that it's now known for having a particularly egalitarian culture, and in the early to mid 2000s, when this was written, was a very well-off country). The story makes particular sense for its time, but given the social comment dimensions of Scandinavian crime fiction, must also be an exhortation to improve provision by presenting people who would very clearly use and benefit from it. At times the novel discusses causation via the abuse cycle, without ever minimising the horror of the experience, which is described as "soul death" - this is very well done, and it is not a book in which explanation could be seen as "excuse" by an angry reader, who felt a clinical approach failed to acknowledge what they'd seen.
I can't quite explain how, but there is something very compassionate about the way Indriðason's characters are written. I've picked up these books a few times when annoyed, including with a character in another book who'd reminded me of an old acquaintance I disliked for no worthwhile reason, and soon I feel much better disposed and more understanding towards people in general. Sigurður Óli, who doesn't exactly seem suited for public services and who's the most potentially dislikeable character, has his dismissive tendencies reined in by the others. Erlendur is the stereotypical grumpy fiftysomething cop with baggage, but whilst he's not terribly consistent with those he's close to, he does have plenty of empathy for those at a little more distance. This is the fourth novel in the Icelandic series but only the second in English, so the sense of him "finally" opening up as he tells the full story of how his brother went missing in childhood must have been much greater in the original.
It's also high time I stopped attempting to justify or explain reading books like this in the assumption that a lot of my friends / followers expect more 'literary' stuff. (Plus, it's part of what I was reading when I first joined - I'm going back to what I originally liked rather than being sidetracked or playing to a particular crowd of people I don't know.) Going to try not to do any more justifying after this post. I remember a GR review (but not which book it was) where someone was frustrated by the high ratings most Scandinavian crime fiction had; they thought the writing was pretty bad and found other reviews and ratings useless as a guide. They were simply looking for a different type of writing rarely found in this subgenre. (Reading ebook samples would solve that problem - it's not like you even need to buy or borrow anything, or go anywhere, to find out what the style is like.) I'm rating these things because I am enjoying them for what they are. (And sometimes my ratings are higher when the average is lower, because I like some thrillers in the same way I like so-bad-its-good action movies.)
Though Indriðason mentions in one interview that his style is influenced by the Sagas. It has greater clarity than Anne Holt's or Asa Larsson's - both of whom I've read in the last few months - and I'm pretty sure there's very little clumsy infodumping in comparison, but I'm deliberately reading faster, so might not notice. It's easy to trot out comparisons with the sagas for any Icelandic writing, but I think it's warranted here. The striking thing about the sagas I've read so far is that only externals, actions, are described, very rarely thoughts - though a bit of life experience and psychology makes all sorts of currents and reasons apparent. Indriðason gives his characters more internality, but the spareness and clarity, and the amount of suspense and action clearly has some parallel. I've really enjoyed the translations by Bernard Scudder, but am not looking forward so much to those later in the series by Victoria Cribb. Scudder sadly died (and early by modern standards) whilst working on one of his books, and Cribb took over. I've never been quite happy with any of her translations I've read so far, and started to consider her the common factor - but possibly if I read her Indriðason translations fast instead of mulling over the style, that and an existing relationship to the characters and themes will make them enjoyable. ...more
A short prologue in italics tells of a boy chorister at the beginning of a concert. Then the novel proper opens one 19th December, when a hotel doormaA short prologue in italics tells of a boy chorister at the beginning of a concert. Then the novel proper opens one 19th December, when a hotel doorman in a Santa suit is found dead with his trousers down. (An image which some decades ago would have been unusual and shocking, now merely sordid.) The only book in his room is 'A History of the Vienna Boys' Choir'. There's an obvious route for the story to take from here. Though Indriðason may not be the sort of author to follow it exactly.
Whilst Voices is still a compulsively readable mystery like its two predecessors, it has more flaws, more noticeable ones, and some inconsistencies (most minor and making no overall difference, but one is significant to the plot). Silence of the Grave had such attention to detail; this sequel seems an some absent-minded slump following a triumph. The detectives are having a bit of an off week too - probably because it's the run up to Christmas - and the investigation is sometimes amusingly shambolic. (What, they still haven't done that? If this was set in Stockholm or London someone would be getting bawled out by their superiors...) A perennial quirk of the series remains as Erlendur, due to personal baggage, prioritises digging into the past over conventionally obvious aspects of the present and gets away with it. This could hang better with the grittier, realistic side of the stories if a paragraph or two at least mentioned setting some constables to do the legwork on routine contemporary angles he's neglecting. Erlendur's naivety about a couple of matters was entirely unbelievable in a policeman of 30+ years' service, and in one instance was out of step with something else he'd said in the same book. (view spoiler)[1)It didn't occur to him, without being prompted by a colleague, that an old man with an obsessive interest in choirboys might be a paedophile. 2) The possibility of a rent boy never occured to him until non-police characters repeatedly waved the idea in his face - yet at the start he was entirely open minded as to whether the victim had been with a woman or a man. (hide spoiler)]
In Jar City and Silence of the Grave, my understanding developed at around the same pace as the investigators', but here, there were things that seemed obvious to me at the beginning... assumptions I thought might be dispelled, based on the track record of the earlier books. Not quite. (The following are spoilers for things that emerge near the end of the book.) (view spoiler)[ 1) In Elinborg's case, the father being tried for beating up his son, I was sure at the beginning that the father wasn't guilty. It was obvious that the kid was trying to protect someone else and liked his dad. And it seemed a mistake not to look into the mother earlier given the severity of her problem. 2) Some people may have a different culture about this, but oral sex with a condom IMO strongly suggests prostitution. It seemed weird they didn't pursue this angle, - or is that because it doesn't look that way to Icelanders / the author? 3) However. Full marks for NOT having the two cases tie up together as they so often do in crime fiction. The Arne Dahl TV series does it in an impressively intricate way, but the change, and the greater plausibility of them not doing so is a welcome change. (hide spoiler)]
I also wasn't quite convinced by part of the conclusion. (view spoiler)[ - Would the sight of a man giving another man a blow job really set off a violent flashback for her? It doesn't have any obvious place in her story. Other people's triggers are funny things though, and drugs complicate the picture. (hide spoiler)]
Voices doesn't have such pointed social comment as its predecessors - these are crimes resulting from messes that happen everywhere in the western world, and it would take far more than the sort of change or vigilance that Nordic crime novels implicitly call for, for these things not to happen. (view spoiler)[Overly strict parents; the ruts that former child stars often fall into; the illegality of heroin. Though if the police paid greater attention to crimes against addicts by dealers and their henchmen, the mess might have been averted. (hide spoiler)] A couple of features of Icelandic society receive brief criticisms: wastefulness and the aversion to second-hand goods, and that "no-one is ever allowed to excel in this dwarf state" - there are places like this in every country, but Jante Law may make the attitude more acceptable in the Noridic states. One significant issue recurs time and again though in these books, that sentences even for violent crimes in Iceland are extremely short. [Haven't checked this independently yet.] And whilst it isn't a crux of the book, and perhaps that's significant in itself, one of the least liberal aspects of contemporary Nordic political culture emerges here, a (still relatively subtle) sense of distaste about sex workers, in contrast with the consciously empathic portrayal of other 'difficult' social groups. The best chance these characters get is to say "you wouldn't understand"; there's no real insight. It's easy to see this as the product of a country that would ban strip clubs less than ten years later. (Tangent: the use of the word 'tarts' in the translation is odd and archaic in the context, as a routine slangy word by non-loutish police officers and others including [ex] prostitutes themselves. 'Hookers' instead, maybe? One of very few mis-steps in another good translation.)
The recurring characters and their development are part of what I like in this series.
Voices occasionally features Marion Briem, a retired detective and former boss of Erlunder's, presented with ambiguous gender and sexuality; Marion is usually contacted by phone, apparently has a voice that could be male or female, and is always described sans pronoun. A note in Jar City mentions how this relates to Icelandic surnames: most surnames are patronymics ending in "son" or "dottir", making sex/gender immediately apparent on paper, but Briem is a Danish surname which gives nothing away. The only real clue in the text so far is in Jar City when a particularly bigoted old policeman describes Briem as a 'bastard' - I don't know what the Icelandic original was, or if it's a gendered insult. My mental image of Briem is sometimes as a butch woman, but because of that old officer, more usually of a man who has a few camp / feminine aspects in his presentation, without being so outrageous that he couldn't be a respected police detective in the 60s and 70s. There's a currently untranslated book in which Briem is the lead character - it would be interesting to see how the ambiguity is treated, if the act of writing a whole mainstream novel about the character, not just a few paragraphs, will change things.
From the series in general, I'd been taking away an inaccurately positive sense of the relationship between Erlendur and his twentysomething on-off heroin addict daughter Eva Lind. Their conversations actually pretty damn awkward on the page. But other people's difficult relatives don't push the buttons your own do. And the reader gets to hear many of Erlendur's thoughts, there's an impression of someone who understands, but is unable to articulate it, and is going through something like a therapeutic process single-handed. I still warm to him because he has an instinctive awareness of psychological effects, that he understands his walking out when she was a kid had something but certainly not everything to do with the way she turned out, and he's found a pretty good balance of letting her do her own thing and helping out when really necessary. Eva Lind seems both rude and brave in saying things that seem futile, but it's not necessarily futile to say them to him, as it may be to some who see the world differently, because the cogs are turning, albeit slowly.
I've read enough of these books now to start to see an obvious pattern in the structure - time for a bit of a break before any more, so they don't start to feel monotonous.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Clearing up the wrongs of the past seems the overarching theme of the Erlendur series; I've only read one before (Hypothermia), but blurb for most ofClearing up the wrongs of the past seems the overarching theme of the Erlendur series; I've only read one before (Hypothermia), but blurb for most of the others points to something similar. When your entire country has a population around the same as Reading or Birkenhead*, with a considerably lower crime rate than either, the need for historic cases and old remains to add complexity makes sense if you're going to make even a slight nod to realism in detective novels.
Read slowly, the simple sentence structures reminded me of older children's and YA books. But that also means this stuff can be read three-quarters asleep without effort, or, more awake, at a speed where you're aware of taking in meaning rather than specific words - blink and you've read 20 pages by accident. It is entirely clear. There are none of the distracting stylistic annoyances of, say, Harry Potter. From A to B with zero fuss. One possible blunder: (view spoiler)[a genetic disease, with apparently dominant inheritance, which is passed father to daughter, in which males get minor symptoms and females die before they are old enough to have children, is unlikely. A condition in which males were worse affected would be more realistic, but would have stymied the plot as it would have had to be recessive. (hide spoiler)] But hey, it is fiction.
Possibly my favourite thing about this book was the maps. FOUR maps! (Two are inset.) And every single location mentioned in the novel is on at least one of the maps! Amazing. (I know because I looked - I always like to have a sense of where it's all happening spatially. I feel much more there than with only words. Just as I've always had a map in my head of where I and people I know are, in the country or the world, I make one for characters.) If only there were maps this good with every book.
Readers bored of the stereotyped divorced, smoking, drinking, depressed lead detective maybe shouldn't prioritise the Erlendur books. I haven't read enough of those to find them obviously tiresome, and in any case I'm interested in characters who are aware of being uncomfortably close to the other side of the service they work on. Erlendur isn't an old school Sweeney style thug, but we learn that both of his twentysomething kids are addicts (one may be regarded as a misfortune...) and there's a scene where the detective loses his temper destructively.
The following paragraph is marginally spoilerish, so you may want to skip it if you mean to read the book any time soon.
As a crime novel, this was entirely serviceable, a decent read with no obvious faults, in which a nasty piece of work gets his long-awaited comeuppance and his victims get recognition, and I'd have given it four stars. But I disagree with part of the socio-political point the story makes. To put it in general terms... "Jar City" refers to old collections of organs sometimes made without consent - the British equivalent would be Alder Hey. It is presented as a parallel with the Icelandic genetic and genealogical database which made the news in the late 90s / early 2000s. But instead of attacking issues such as government control and big data, or gene patenting, the story presents gaining knowledge of a family secret as highly destructive and destabilising (more so than the secrecy itself) - rather than something to learn from, and understand and better manage one's own life and relationships with others, something that should have been known and talked about much earlier.
* current figures, CBA to dig for UK city and Icelandic numbers from 2000 when the book was published["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more