Ms.pegasus's Reviews > Jar City

Jar City by Arnaldur Indriðason
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's review
Mar 28, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: mystery, fiction, translated-into-english
Recommended for: mystery lovers,
Read in January, 2011 — I own a copy

JAR CITY by Arnaldur Indridason (translated from the Icelandic by Bernard Scudder) is deceptively austere in writing style. The story is propelled almost solely by the skillful intertwining of several story lines. A 70 year-old man named Holberg is found murdered in his damp squalid basement apartment. The only clues are a cryptic and hastily scrawled note and the aged photograph of a 4 year-old's grave. Inspector Erlendur of the Icelandic investigation unit and his team learn that the 4 year old was a little girl named Audur who died of a brain tumor some 40 years ago, and whose mother committed suicide three years later. Erlendur is an interesting character despite his stereotypic bio. He lives in a modest apartment. He's 50, lives alone, subsists on an unhealthy diet of hastily consumed fast food, smokes, and has two semi-estranged children, the product of a brief marriage which ended in an acrimonious divorce. The daughter, Eva Lind, is a drug addict whom he has just learned is pregnant. This strand of plotting explores his relationship with Eva Lind, and its impact on his compulsion to pursue the investigation.

Minimal remarks underscore the unique claustrophobic character of Iceland. At one point, Erlendur remarks defensively, “I know Icelandic murders aren't complicated, but there's something about this one that doesn't fit...” At another point he argues: “A missing person returning a whole generation later. When people disappear in Iceland it's always for good. No one ever comes back after an absence of more than 25 years. Never.” It's an island country suspended just below the Arctic Circle; the population is distributed in a handful of coastal towns ringing the perimeter. People from the smaller towns keep in touch through gossip even when they've moved to other parts of the country.

Indridason holds the reader's interest through the dialogue of his characters. The arguments between Erlendur and Eva Lind explode like fireworks. Erlendur's former mentor, Marion Briem, is a mysteriously neutered presence whom we meet only through intermittent phone conversations. We learn that Erlendur has an uneasy relationship with his brilliant former mentor, but we never learn why.

The many plot strands are further tied together by a pervasive atmosphere of family secrets and lurid obsessions. This is an unusual mystery rooted in an unusual setting.
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