Thanks to the efforts of translators, there is now an increasing number of works of non-English crime writers available to us. This is especially true of the Scandinavians, and in this case the Icelandic writer, Arnaldur Indridason. His previous books that I have read featuring his detective, Erlendur Sveinsson and his colleagues, were Tainted Blood and Silence of the Grave. While Iceland, and its particularities are a feature of the books, it is increasingly the character of Erlendur which they explore through the crimes he investigates.
In all of the books, the past holds the key to the crime under investigation – in Tainted Blood (originally published as Jar City) it is a forty-year old crime; in Silence of the Grave it is a long-buried body found in a building development; and in Voices, it is the past of the victim. Family tragedies, pains and struggles drive the plot, as factors in both the crimes and in Erlendur’s life. Collectors and what drives them seem to be significant, because they also feature.
The story is about the death of a hotel doorman, who turns out to have been a child singing prodigy, but whose career and family relationships have fallen apart. However, his records have attracted the attention of collectors, and are now reputed to have considerable value. The action takes place in the days that run up to Christmas, and Erlendur is in a very strange mood – taking up residence in the hotel while the investigation takes place, while the issues of family and relationships that are revealed in the murder investigation prompt flashbacks into his own family history around the loss of his younger brother in a blizzard. There is also another parallel story going on in the background about an investigation and possible prosecution of a father for physically abusing his son. So much of the book is about the relationship between fathers and sons (and daughters), and between siblings. Throughout the investigation people keep back information that would help resolution or understanding, and it takes time for the real sequence of events and their drivers of shame and guilt and responsibility to be revealed. And this applies as much to Erlendur’s relationship with his troubled daughter as it does to any of the other relationships being investigated. Everything is not always as it seems, however, and we need to remember that.
The importance of collecting and collectors goes beyond a plot mechanism, as Erlendur says:
Isn’t collecting an attempt to preserve something from your childhood? Something to do with your memories, something you don’t want to let go but keep on cultivating and nourishing with this obsession?
In his case, it is the memory of his brother’s death that meant, in his words, “I’ve avoided looking anything in the face ever since” and led, eventually, to his divorce and neglect of his own children. For his daughter, Eva Lind, it is the memory of a family that never really was, and that she has been looking for ever since.
This book focuses more on Erlendur and less on his colleagues than I recall from the previous books. They are there contributing information, and worrying about finding time to spend their families in preparing for Christmas – providing a nice contrast to the Erlendur’s state of emotional suspension. If there is one thing that made me feel a little let down it was the fairly late clarification of the relationship that drove the crime, although it is perfectly consonant with the themes of the story. However, the book works, and Arnaldur Indridason is definitely on my must read list.
Details: Publisher: Vintage ISBN: 9780099494171
Other books by Arnaldur Indridason:
Sons of Dust, Silent Kill, Tainted Blood/Jar City, Silence of the Grave, The Draining Lake, Arctic Chill