sprite writes
broodings from the burrow

November 30, 2011

into the stacks: jar city
posted by soe 2:45 am

Jar City by Arnaldur Indriðason

From the jacket: “When a lonely old man is found dead in his Reykjavík flat, the only clues are a cryptic note left by the killer and a photograph of a young girl’s grave. Inspector Erlendur discovers that many years ago the victim was accused, but not convicted, of an unsolved crime, a rape. Did the old man’s past come back to haunt him? As Erlendur reopens this very cold case, he follows a trail of unusual forensic evidence, uncovering secrets that are much larger than the murder of one old man.”

My take: Both Nan and raidergirl3 recommended the Erlendur series to me when I was seeking out Icelandic fiction to read prior to our trip, and the folks at Goodreads concurred, giving it one of their better ratings for Icelandic books. However, life being what it was, I didn’t get a chance to start it until we found ourselves sitting in Keflavik Airport for several hours the morning of our arrival. But the deserted canteen provided the perfect spot to be sucked into the riveting world of Inspector Erlendur of the Reykjavik police force, called in to investigate the apparent murder of an elderly man.

Erlendur and his two detectives search the man’s apartment and eventually turn up an old photograph, which turns out to be of a young girl’s grave. Despite his underlings’ scoffing at his hunch that the picture is important, Erlendur insists on learning more. As they follow leads, they discover that many years earlier, the girl’s mother accused the dead man of raping her after he escorted her home from a party. But both the child and her mother are now dead, so they couldn’t have murdered the man, could they?

Jar City reminds me of the Swedish Wallander series (or, at least, the tv versions of them), and there is more than a passing similarity between the two Scandinavian policemen. The scenery in both is stark, the tone tends toward the darker side of police procedurals (although not as bleak as I’d feared), and the lead characters are both a bit of a mess, having destroyed all of the relationships they’ve ever been involved in, in part, you assume, because of their devotion to their jobs. In the case of this novel, Erlendur is long-divorced with two grown children, both of whom battle addiction. His daughter, Eva Lind, claims she’s trying to get clean, but she shows up at his apartment acting strangely.

Erlendur must juggle both his personal life and his work life to try and make sense of either. But while neither is going to sort out easily or painlessly, you can’t help but root for the grizzled Icelander to come through in the end.

Pages: 290

Category: books. There is/are 3 Comments.

The series keeps improving as it goes along. Erlendur is such a mess!

Comment by raidergirl3 11.30.11 @ 4:59 pm

I feel badly for him because he seems to blame himself, and Eva Lind certainly does – for the breakup, for leaving the kids. But the fact is that her mother didn’t let him get in touch, so it isn’t his fault. That EL drives me wild. She has gotten a little better in the later books, and it’s clear she cares about him and what he thinks.
Now, I have a treat for you. Maybe you already know, but Jar City is available on Netflix Instant. And it is really good. Great views of Iceland. I sat there watching like a little kid trying to absorb the landscape. It would be fun for you, having just seen it.
I am going to take a day, and just read all your Icelandic pieces, and look at all the pictures.
I do like Erlendur more than Wallander, both the books and the characters. He’s such a solitary fellow with a deep sadness(nothing gross) from his childhood, which you will learn more and more about as the books go on. Oh, just writing about this makes me want to read the books all over again. Raidergirl is lucky because she has read the latest one. I’m glad that it is more about Elinborg but am disturbed to read that there is concern about where Erlendur is and if he is alright. I know, I know. These are only stories, Nan.:<)

Comment by Nan 11.30.11 @ 5:26 pm

I came to find your blog after you left a comment on mine for the Advent Tour, and I find you have reviewed one of my favourite mystery authors! I’m really happy you liked Jar City. There are some excellent mysteries in this series waiting for you. And believe me, we find out a little more about Erlendur is with every book. I am so anxious for Outrage to come out in softcover so I can get it. I also like the Wallender series; they are gripping too, in a different way.

If you want another Icelandic author to read, Yrsa Sigurdardottir has four out now in her Thora Gudmundsdottir series. They have a hint of supernatural about them, and are atmospheric and haunting also.

Comment by Susan 12.03.11 @ 7:40 pm