It's more than four months old, but it's still worth reading...
Saturday, September 18, 2010
Arctic Chill, by Arnaldur Indriðason
Looking back through my blog posts here, I'm surprised to see that I haven't written up anything on Icelandic crime writer Arnaldur Indriðason yet. This is the fourth book of his I've read, although fifth in the Detective Erlendur series as far as the ones that have reached America go. Oddly, the first two books in the series have not been published in the U.S. (I'm kind of baffled by how frequently books in translation reach us in the wrong sequence--it's okay with 'regular' novels, but it doesn't make much sense with series.)
Arctic Chill is the story of a murder investigation into the death of a young boy of Thai descent who is found frozen in the snow outside an apartment block. Arnuldur (last names aren't really used in Iceland, which is lucky for me, because his patronymic Indriðason is one I must resort to cut and paste to print) uses this situation to examine many different kinds of attitudes toward the steadily growing foreign population that has come to what previously has been a very insular, one race culture. I expect that in the time since this book was written many of the guest workers have gone home. But as this book makes clear, even when things don't work out, there are wives left stranded in the wrong hemisphere, children of one culture born in the homeland of another, and people caught between two worlds, who can't negotiate the gap. And I do have to say that all the way through the book, I felt a kind of shivering pity for all these Southeast Asian people having to endure a world of winter and snow.
I liked this outing, though it wasn't my favorite. Part of this was probably due to a fairly clumsy and confusing translation, which I have since heard was due to the death of original translator Bernard Scudder midprocess and the attempt to finish the project by someone else. But I think some of it was just due to the fact that we have less of Erlendur and his doleful family drama than in the others. Erlendur left his wife with two young children early on, and due to the bitterness of that separation he lost contact with his children. They in turn have not fared so well without him. One of the continuing strengths of the series is the strained and in some cases terrible relation between Erlendur and his drug using daughter Eva Lind. The kind of hopeless yet somehow hopeful connection between them seems very real, and one of the uses of series books is that situations like this can go on without being resolved neatly at the end.
As a child Erlendur lost his little brother in a terrible snow storm. He was not at fault, but still feels perpetually guilty. How a tragic event can shape the life of a survivor, and how that in turn affects the lives of all who try to connect with him is also one the continuing themes Arnuldur explores in an aching, understated way.