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by Arnaldur Indridason
Harvill Secker, August 2007
400 pages
11.99 GBP
ISBN: 1846550955

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

A scientist is checking instruments at a dried-out Icelandic lake when she makes a gruesome discovery. There's a skeleton with a hole in its skull and weighed down with an old radio transmitter with Russian letters on it.

Inspector Erlendur and his colleagues Elinborg and Sigurdur Oli are on the case. I won't say they're on to it rapidly, as the speed of Icelandic policing appears to be leisurely, to put it mildly. I wonder sometimes if it is really is as laidback as Indridason portrays it – a warrant to dig up land to look for a dead body gets delayed as staff who process it are on holiday. And it takes our heroes quite some time to get around to investigating the person wot dunnit!

The attraction for me of the boom in European crime fiction is seeing how law enforcement works outside of the UK and the US. In Iceland, being rung at home by members of the public seems an occupational hazard for police. And getting into political arguments with suspects seems par for the course as well.

The three main characters are comfortable in each other's company and niggle at each other as long-term colleagues often do. Erlendur is a hang-dog chap with two dysfunctional children on the edges of his life and a vague relationship with a married woman. Sigurdur Óli, who is inordinately proud of his time studying in America, gets phone calls from a bloke whose wife was killed in a road accident. And Elinborg has just written a cookery book which could make her famous.

THE DRAINING LAKE boats an interesting and unusual angle, especially for those of us not familiar with Iceland's recent history. Thre's a link to the Cold War and spying, and to the 1950s when idealistic Icelandic teenagers went to study in East Germany. Unlike Indridason's earlier books, where I never felt much of a sense of place, Iceland and its society plays a more vital role in this book – particularly as the posting from hell for diplomats!

Indridason's storytelling is deceptively laconic. And the plotting in many ways is the least interesting bit of the book (it's fine, albeit linear and yes, laidback!) The main interest of this very readable series has to be the character of Erlendur, haunted by his dead brother from the past and his off-the-rails children in the present.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, August 2007

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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