Kristine Brancolini's Reviews > Black Skies

Black Skies by Arnaldur Indriðason
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really liked it

Like other fans of Erlendur, I was worried that a Erlendur mystery without Erlendur might fall a little flat. Plus, Erlendur's colleague Sigurdur Óli, the protagonist of Black Skies is not a very likeable character. Erlendur is endlessly morose and fascinating. That had not been my impression of boring Sigurdur Óli. Ok, I was wrong about all of this. I should have trusted Indriðason. Ostensibly about a murder that is the result of blackmail, there are really three crimes, two related and one unrelated. But the characters are what set Indriðason mysteries apart from the rest. In Black Skies he offers a more nuanced portrait Sigurdur Óli and completes the heartbreaking story of another character whom readers met in Arctic Chill, Andres.

Indriðason departs from his usual narrative to fill in the complicated background of Sigurdur Óli. His mother, now an accountant, has been divorced from his father, a plumber, for many years. His mother seems to be cold and unforgiving. His father tried everything he could to keep the marriage together; he became a doormat. And Sigurdur grew up determined that "he would do his damnedest to avoid turning out like his father" (137). Sigurdur keeps asking the question, "What brought them together?" He admits that he's baffled by their relationship. He's coming to grips with the collapse of his own long-term relationship with Bergthora and wondering how his parents' marriage may have affected him.

Sigurdur is definitely not my type. Chilly and insensitive, he's much more like his mother than his father, which hasn't helped his relationships with women. No one, including Bergthora, is good enough for our Siggi, according to his mother. Ick. Plus, while studying at a police academy in the U.S. he has become obsessed with American sports, especially football and baseball. Because of the time-change, he often stays up late at night watching football games on his satellite TV. He has no interest in books, the arts, or anything cultural. What a fun guy! He has no sympathy for any criminal, even youthful offenders who may have experienced brutal and impoverished childhoods. He basically loaths his job and thinks he may have been wrong to abandon the study of law to become a policeman.

But in the course of Black Skies Sigurdur evolves. He finds himself more sympathetic to criminals and the down-and-out, people like Andres. A chronic alcoholic introduced in Arctic Chill, his story is told here through flashback. We learn more about his sexual abuse at the hands of his step-father and so does Sigurdur, to whom Andres has reached out. Andres has found his step-father and plans to take revenge. Or does he? After seeing a short film clip of Andres at age 10, Sigurdur reflects, "...he rarely felt any sympathy for the luckless individuals he came across in the line of duty,but there was something about the boy's wretchedness, his anguish and defencelessness, that moved him" (189). At this point Sigurdur begins to find his humanity and although I still miss Erlendur, I kind of fell in love with Sigurdur.

There's more, of course. Murders to be solved. Details about the strangely lenient criminal justice system in Iceland. (No one seems to go to jail for very long, despite the seriousness of the crime.) The seemingly deficient social welfare system. The crazy financial situation that led to the collapse of their economy in 2008. Tidbits about life in Iceland. City life vs. country life. And a death in the ice-covered wilderness.

But the story of Andres is what will stay with you when you close this book. It's horrifying and desperately sad.

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Reading Progress

Started Reading
February 1, 2014 – Shelved
February 1, 2014 – Finished Reading

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