Sunday, February 21, 2010

Jar City

Jar City
Author: Arnuldur Indriđason (Translated by: Bernard Scudder)
Picador, 2000
275 pages

Having enjoyed reading thrillers by Swedish authors Stieg Larsson and Håkan Nesser over the past year, I decided to expand my horizons to other Nordic countries. One author who caught my eye during a recent Internet search of this unique literary voice is Arnuldur Indriđason, from Iceland. Jar City is the first of the Reykjavík Thrillers translated into English; so far, Arnuldur has written ten books in all featuring Detective Erlendur, a late-fortyish/early-fiftyish divorced father.

Erlendur in many ways is the stereotypical fictional detective: divorced, cynical, and slightly crotchety. There's something sad about him, and I can't help but wonder just where things went wrong or what it was that made him this way. He's lonely, he eats too many "ready" meals, and his personal relationships may be classified as slightly dysfunctional. Despite this, you can't help but like him.

The book starts with the murder of a seventy year-old man and the discovery of a most unusual clue. As the police search for the murderer, we're introduced to several characters who will undoubtedly play a role in future books: Sigurdur Óli, Erlendur's yuppie police partner; Elínborg, the female cop with feminine sensibilities; the mysterious Marion Briem, whose name is not Icelandic and whose gender is never revealed; and Erlendur's wayward daughter, Eva Lind. A secondary case crops up when a bride disappears from her wedding just after the ceremony. Where did the young woman go? Are the two cases related? These are just a few of the questions to be answered.

Along the way, we learn the meaning of the title . . . what Jar City is and its significance to the story. (I'd tell you more, but it would probably reveal too much.) We get to know a little about Icelandic culture, and the unique genetic homogeneity of the approximately 300,000 people of Iceland is a major theme. But I'd really like to learn more about this island country, our nearest European neighbor that's about the size of the US state of Ohio; land of geysers, geothermal heat, cod fish, and moonscape-like scenery.

For this reason -- and because I tore through Jar City like a bag of good potato chips -- I've put the next book in the series, Silence of the Grave, on my wish list.