Monday, 17 February 2014

Arnaldur Indridason - the last three mystery novels in the Erlendur series

   Detective Erlendur is a morose, quiet, determined detective in Iceland.  Over the series of novels featuring him, we have learned about the blizzard when he was a child that he and his brother got lost in.  Erlendur comes home, his brother never does.  From Jar City through to Hypothermia, we have watched the slow uncovering of Erlendur's grief and how this event shaped him.  He is unable to connect with anyone, though he is able to function enough to have relationships for a time - long enough to be married and produce two children before divorce, and later eventually another love affair with a woman in the later novels.  He is not overtly depressed, he is chronically depressed and withdrawn.   Every so often, goes back east on his own to see if he can find out what happened to his brother.  My review of Hypothermia is here.

In the last three novels, something different happens.  At the end of Hypothermia, Erlendur sets out to discover what happened to a woman who disappeared in a town very close to where he grew up.  It was decades before the blizzard that trapped him and his brother.  Disappearances haunt Erlendur, so when he goes, he doesn't really leave any message behind. His detectives know this is normal for him, so they don't think much of it, though as the second week progresses, they start to get worried.

 Outrage is the next book in the series, taking place during the week after he has left.  One of his detectives, Detective Elinborg, handles this case in his absence.

Outrage is a story about a dead man found in a pool of blood, in his own apartment.  Clues suggest he had had a woman over shortly before his death.  Elinborg is handed the case when her co-worker Sigurdur Oli says he is working on another case, and can't help her.  In Outrage we get to see Iceland, and the detectives, and the case, through Elinborg's eyes.  I really enjoyed getting to know her, and her family: her husband who is quiet, her two sons, and her brilliant young daughter.  Near the end of the book Valgedur, the woman Erlendur is involved with, calls her to ask if she has heard from Erlendur.  It's been almost two weeks, and she is worried.  Elinborg tells her not to worry, but of course they both do.

The mystery itself is good, though a little convoluted.  The killer is not easily apparent, and it is only due to Elinborg's instincts that the real killer is uncovered.  The best part of the mystery is Elinborg herself, and her family.  She loves to cook, and has written a cookbook about desserts that is successful.  Her children are interesting, as is her marriage.  I'd like to know more about her!  So I ended up really enjoying the book as a whole.
Black Skies, the next book, features Sigurdur Oli, the other detective in the pair that work under Erlendur.  He is working on a big case when Elinborg is handed the rape and death case, so he is unable and mostly unwilling to help her. It takes place during the same two week time period Outrage does.  Sigurdur Oli is very ambitious, very aware of his appearance, and as we discover in Black Skies, somewhat crooked.  I say somewhat because he makes a mistake and spends much of the book praying it won't be uncovered, because he knows the people involved in the crime, and should have recused himself from solving it.  They are in important positions, banking etc, and don't want the police involved.  Of course it is much more complicated than that, and before too long, Sigurdur Oli realizes he is trapped, and has been set up.  He can't tell anyone, without revealing his complicity in the investigation.   It's an interesting portrayal of one of the main characters, and makes for gripping reading.  Sigurdur Oli also has a partner he has broken up with, who  he comes to realize he still loves, but it is too late for them.  Black Skies is about errors of judgement, and the policeman who makes some of the worst ones.  The other principal crime is a horrific story of a murder with a leather mask with a spike in the middle of it.  Why it happened, falls in Sigurdur Oli to solve, and the story of what happens to the main character of this investigation has direct links to what is about to happen to Erlendur in the final book in the series.  Again, in Black Skies, there are a few references to Erlendur's mysterious trip to the east Fjords and whatever he is investigating there.

As with Elinborg in the previous book, we discover more about Sigurdur Oli and what his history is.  His parents are divorced, and in the book he learns his father is dying of cancer.   Even though Sigurdur Oli is vain, and self-centered, he has an appealing quality - he is smart, and he does learn from his mistakes ,though he learns the very hard way.  I really enjoyed Black Skies, as dark as the crimes are, it is gritty and realistic as it portrays the betrayal of innocents and all the costs to society when it can't protect the most innocent.
The final book in the series, Strange Shores, was published late last fall.  It features Erlendur, during the two weeks that the previous books take place.  This is what Erlendur was doing out east......he goes out there ostensibly to uncover what happened to a woman in January 1942.  Supposedly Mattildur had set out to visit her family over the mountain pass....only a blizzard came up, and she never made it.  At the same time, a troop of British soldiers had gone out for a walk, and gotten lost on the same moors.  Not all of the soldiers survive, but the ones who do, claim they never met Mattildur, though they would have been walking during the same time and should have crossed paths.  This is Erlendur's cover story, even to himself, about why he is there.  Because the little village he is visiting, is close by his old family home, that his family left after a few years after the blizzard and his brother's death.  They can't bear the memories, and abandon the house and farm.

Throughout the book, each chapter opens with a little bit about a man who is losing consciousness.  Near the end, I realized it was Erlendur.  How, and why?  Strange Shores is about the grief left behind for the survivors, and about how losing his brother in the blizzard shaped Erlendur.  We discover the truth he has hidden from himself, that he blames himself for his brother's death.  His brother wouldn't have been there if not for Erlendur.......and his parents are so caught up in grief, that he is never able to tell them, and be relieved of his guilt. He comes to see that his whole life, this is why he can't connect with people, why he is a loner, and why he is drawn to solving mysteries.  He has always hoped his brother somehow survived, or would be found.  Strange Shores is heart-breaking in the end. Erlendur can't escape his past, either, and he finally realizes that he doesn't want to.  There is a deep melancholy in this book, as Erlendur after painstaking detective work uncovers what happens to Matthildur. This mystery novel examines the grief that people carry after losing someone they love, and what happens when the loss is compounded by the unknowable:  when the loved one disappears, how can anyone move on?  That mystery means the loss can never be closed, it lingers on as days, months, years pass, waiting to find out what happened, to have a resolution of some kind.  In the end, the resolution that Erlendur finds might not be to every reader's taste, and indeed he does something before the ending that shocked me so much that I put the book down and exclaimed, "no way!" out loud!  What he does is so shocking to me, though I realized this shows his slow unravelling as he faces the memories of that blizzard that he has buried deeply in himself.  I went back to the book, prepared for what I knew was going to come, and hoping anyway it wouldn't.  It is an ending that fits Erlendur and his character, and leaves me so sad for him.

This is a mystery series with a character not like anyone out there.  I love the setting, Iceland with its long dark hours and history that shapes the island and people making a living on it.  The darkness of human character, emphasized because of the long winters, and bleakness of much of the landscape.  Erlendur is unforgettable, and thanks to Black Skies and Outrage, his detectives are much more clearly delineated for me now.  I highly recommend the whole series to mystery readers. 

Interviews with Arnaldur Indridason:
Telegraph (UK)

Other reviews
Kerry at Mysteries in Paradise

Black Skies
Kerry at Mysteries in Paradise

Strange Shores
Crime Fiction Lover
Raidergirl3 at An Adventure in Reading


raidergirl3 said...

Lovely Susan. I like how you reviewed all three together and showed the interconnectedness. They really were a trilogy, but a trilogy at the end of the series because you need all the background set-up.

It's so sad that it has ended though.

Susan said...

raidergirl: thank you! they were lovely read in a row, I could really see the connections then. It is such a good mystery series. I am so sad at the ending, too, like you. I was crying as I finished reading. I understand why it is that way, but still, so sad.

Nan said...

I'll be back when I've read them. I didn't read a word since I want to be surprised! Some people have thought it was the end, but others have said there could be more.I'm hoping for the latter of course.

Susan said...

Nan: I hear you. I so much wish there can be more.....please hurry and read them so we can know what you think! :-)