Monday, September 27, 2010

Arctic Chill by Arnaldur Indridason

Arctic Chill is the fifth in Indridason's Reykjavik Thriller series, but it is the first I've read. Before I had even finished reading this book, I had placed an order for the first four. This novel has much to offer the mystery aficionado: a well-crafted police procedural, an unflinching indictment of modern culture, and a glimpse into Iceland's racial tensions and changing demographics. Erlendur and his two detectives, Elinborg and Sigurdur Oli, investigate when a young Thai boy, Elias, is found stabbed to death, his blood freezing his body to the ground outside his apartment complex. Elias's mother, Sunee, had been brought to Iceland as a bride in a marriage that ended in divorce, partly because of Sunee's insistence on bringing her older son to Iceland as well. Niran's difficulties in adapting to Icelandic culture provide the backdrop for a fascinating discussion on assimilation versus preserving one's own culture. Was this crime racially motivated? There is an abundance of liberal Icelanders whose hackles have been raised by the influx of immigrants who don't learn Icelandic and whose children scoff at learning Icelandic history in school. One of Elias's teachers is full of hateful rhetoric about "those people." Hints of a possible pedophile in the area, tensions between Icelandic and immigrant children at Elias's school, the disappearance of Niran, and whispers of a boyfriend for Sunee complicate the investigation.

Iceland itself is almost its own character in this novel. This is not a culture with which I was terribly familiar, and the insight was fascinating. In Iceland, disappearances are accepted as part of life in a country with an astronomical suicide rate. The Icelanders are welcoming of immigrants, but fear losing their dwindling culture. The climate is forbiddingly harsh, and it makes me wonder what keeps people there.

Subplots supplemented the central murder investigation. A second mystery, the disappearance of a woman, slips into the storyline as Erlendur receives strange phone calls. Erlendur broods on the disappearance of his brother decades before while awkwardly dealing with his son and daughter turning up, and his mentor is on his deathbed. The plots altogether added up to one of the bleaker mysteries I've read, but even a clunky translation can't diminish its compelling appeal.

Source disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Picador through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer Program.


Mary said...

I just read a review of this book somewhere. It sounded interesting but depressing so I decided to pass. Maybe I'll put it back on my list.

allisonmariecat said...

It's definitely bleak, but I had trouble putting it down. I'll post reviews of the first four as soon as I read them (the first is Jar City). The film of Jar City was a nominee for Best Foreign Film, as well.