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 of...moreClearing 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 drug 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"]>(less)