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by Arnaldur Indridason
St Martin's Minotaur, September 2005
288 pages
ISBN: 0312340702

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Let us get one thing sorted out first once again; publishers have done the annoying thing of issuing a book under two different names just to confuse us. JAR CITY has also been issued under the name of TAINTED BLOOD.

JAR CITY introduces readers to world-weary Icelandic Inspector Erlendur Sveinsson who is in his 50s, divorced, scruffy, pessimistic, insensitive, and running-to-seed character very much in the mode of such well-known characters such as Resnick and Rebus.

When we first meet Erlendur, he has been called in to solve the murder of an elderly man, Holberg, who has been found in his Reykjavk flat with his head smashed in. The only evidence is a mysterious note obviously left by the killer along with a photograph of a young girls grave. Erlendur 's exploration leads him to discover that many years ago the victim was accused, though not convicted, of a strange crime. Did the old mans past come back to haunt him?

Erlendur leads his team deep into the past, to try to reveal who might have had a reason for killing the old man. The further they dig, the more vicious and sordid secrets they uncover, and the more they must engage in very uncomfortable interviews that dredge up hidden pain. These secrets are much larger than the murder of one old man secrets that have been carefully guarded by many people for many years.

The search leads him through pouring Icelandic autumn rains via rapes, heartless policemen, illegal children, and past murder to a solution that has everything to do with the present. Along the way, Erlendur also tackles his own stubborn private conflicts that expose his own intensity and complexity of character. Not only does he have his own ill health to deal with but he must also try to convince his drug-addicted daughter Eva Lind (who flits in and out of his life) that she should stay off drugs. Their relationship is one of the more interesting aspects of the novel.

It is not surprising that JAR CITY won the Glass Key Award for Best Nordic Crime Novel when it was published. Sad and bleak, JAR CITY is a taut, well-executed police procedural, set in grey, rainy Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland. The characters are not perfect but are people who have damaged or flawed lives. The writing may be sparse but it is also very elegant and visual. One can actually believe that one is present in Iceland alongside Erlendur. The only annoying aspect of this book which I felt could have been left out with no detriment to the overall story was the subplot involving the runaway bride.

JAR CITY is an excellent novel, a skilful mixture of a detective novel and literature and certainly a welcome addition to the annals of translated European crime novels. Atmospheric and at times depressing, this novel is dying to be read.

Reviewed by Ayo Onatade, November 2007

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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