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by Arnaldur Indridason
Harvill Secker, August 2006
320 pages
ISBN: 1846550335

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Award-winning author Arnaldur Indridason shows, in his 2003 novel VOICES, just why he is so popular in Iceland. It's a shame that non-Icelandic speakers have had to wait three years before being able to read the latest in the adventures of Erlendur, that unfortunate detective of the frozen north.

It is nearly Christmas, a season which Erlendur is not anticipating with any degree of joy, unlike his assistant Elinborg, who tends to throw herself heart and soul into the preparations. They are called to an up-market hotel in order to investigate the death of a Santa, more usually employed as doorman/handyman for the establishment.

Not only was Gudlauger Egilsson deprived of any joy he might derive from entertaining hotel guests at the Christmas party, a condom, empty of bodily fluids, attached to the man bears witness to the fact that Gulli has also been disappointed by the withholding of more than one Christmas treat. He has died from multiple, savage stab wounds to his chest.

In another case, Erlendur and Elinborg are looking into a horrible assault on a young boy. They suspect the injuries have been inflicted by the child's father but the lad refuses to speak. The father, naturally enough, protests his innocence despite others testifying that he is unusually strict with his son.

The author presents us with a somewhat strange cast of characters. The family, father and sister, of the dead man make no bones about the fact that they have not seen Gudlauger for 30 years and do not regret that fact. They appear to hate the man and Erlendur gradually uncovers the doorman's sad history, how he was once a famous treble, a child star but how his voice broke during an important performance and he became an abomination to the father who had previously adored him.

Another person of interest is Henry Wapshott, a British record collector who proclaims his adoration for the choirboy Gulli used to be. When certain films are discovered in the Englishman's room, one wonders at the nature of the adoration .

Less than adequate treatment of children is the main theme of the novel. Erlendur himself is not totally innocent of this sin, or so he is told by his daughter, drug addict Eva Lind. She disapproves of her father's taking a room in the hotel as Christmas approaches, unable to fathom his distaste for celebration in his unhappy apartment.

There are several thought-provoking topics in this engrossing book, not the least being child abuse and the reaction of people to gays. Prostitution and its promotion by otherwise respectable seeming hotels does not escape either. Drug addiction and the lengths to which addiction drives desperate people also comes under Indridason's scrutiny, all told against the sadness that afflicts so many at Christmastide.

VOICES is an absorbing, if not terribly long, story which, perhaps, should not be read with the intention of bringing joy to the Christmas season.

Reviewed by Denise Pickles, September 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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