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by Arnaldur Indriđason, Bernard Scudder & Victoria Cribb, trans.
Random House Canada, February 2009
352 pages
$32.00 CAD
ISBN: 0307356825

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The crime rate in Iceland is very low, which may account for Inspector Erlendur's approach to solving cases. He is as concerned with the survivors as with the perpetrator and compassionate towards both. In this, the fifth in the series to appear in English, the crime is one that calls upon all his emotional resources, involving as it does, the murder of a ten-year-old boy, of mixed Thai and Icelandic parentage, found frozen to the ground in a pool of his own blood.

Several of Arnuldur's books have dealt with moments of social change in what was once the closed culture of Iceland. SILENCE OF THE GRAVE recalled the impact of the US base on the country in the 1940s, THE DRAINING LAKE the cold war and the lure of the Soviets to disaffected Icelandic youth. Here he turns to a small influx of immigrants from Southeast Asia, and, as ever, his analysis is muted and nuanced.

Only about six percent of the population of Iceland comes from other than historic Norse and Celtic roots. But as Iceland reaches out to Europe and the world, a small but significant number of immigrants arrive on its shores, hoping for a better life. In Arnaldur's eyes, this is a social fact that Icelanders have as yet to come to terms with. They are a decent people, unwilling to embrace racism and reject change. On the other hand, some of them, at least, are frightened at the prospect of what seems to be the opening act in a scenario that will end in the obliteration of traditional Icelandic values.

When Erlendur and his associate, Sigurdur Óli, investigate the circumstances surrounding the little boy's death, Erlendur finds himself admiring the child's Thai mother, now divorced from the Icelandic man who had brought her to this strange and cold country, who works hard to raise her two sons and who, though missing her own land, is committed to remaining in what appears to her to be a land of opportunity. Typically, the more abrasive Sigurdur Óli charges ahead, half-convinced that racism lies at the root of the crime.

As the title suggests, the book takes place in the depths of winter, when it is still pitch black at eight in the morning and icy winds sweep down from the arctic, forcing people to turn into themselves and huddle indoors, waiting for spring. It is a time of year, moreover, that reminds Erlendur of the great tragedy of his life, the loss of his little brother in a blizzard that he himself survived. The child's body was never recovered and the event has entered into the annals of Icelandic lore. Evidently, Iceland can kill its own as well as its immigrants.

Sadly, Bernard Scudder, whose translations introduced this series to the English-speaking world, died before completing work on this one, which has been finished by another hand. The results are mixed and, if no more gifted a translator can be found, at least an attentive copy editor could be employed to get rid of the repetitions ("horrific" must appear twenty times at least) and improve the flow of the dialogue. All the same, even through the foggy glass of this version, Arnaldur is worth the effort.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, January 2009

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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