Friday, September 26, 2008

a review of "Voices: A Reykjavik Thriller"

Voices: A Reykjavik Thriller by Arnaldur Indridason

It is the week before Christmas and we are in the far north, almost guaranteed a snowy, white holiday. But it you looking for a cozy mystery, perhaps you should look elsewhere, because this book would seem to fall distinctly in the category of 'noir', defined in Merriam-Webster as “crime fiction featuring hard-boiled cynical characters and bleak sleazy settings.” Yes, cynical...and yes, bleak...and in “Voices” that is a very enjoyable combination for the reader.

The holidays are approaching, and in the basement of Iceland's very popular Grand Reykjavik Hotel, a body has been found. The victim of the brutal stabbing is the hotel's doorman, discovered half dressed in the suit he was going to wear to play Santa at an employee party. Found with his pants down around his ankles, in a very compromising position, in the nasty, empty little room in which he lived. Called in to investigate is Inspector Erlendur Sveinsson and his team, each with their own very distinct personalities. Erlendur is himself a rather bleak yet compelling character. Divorced for decades, alone, almost a stranger to his two now grown, troubled children, he might seem at first an unlikely sympathetic character. But as with all the folks here, we learn that what we at first see is not all there is to the story.

For example, Erlendur is still haunted by the death of his younger brother when they were both just children, the boy lost forever on a snowy Icelandic moor, while Erlendur was found and saved.
“He was older and was responsible for his sibling. It had always been that way. He had taken care of him. In all their games. When they were home alone. When they were sent off on errands. He had lived up to those expectations. On this occasion he had failed, and perhaps he did not deserve to be saved since his brother had died. He didn't know why he had survived. But he sometimes thought it would have been better if he were the one lying lost on the moor.”

That death and his sense of responsibility for it has colored ever aspect of his life since and is perhaps one reason he find himself at an almost total loss as to how to deal with his own daughter Eva Lind, a drug addict, suffering her own guilt over the death of her prematurely born daughter. But it is also why he is so dedicated to his job.
And besides the murder, there is also woven through the book another little subplot of a young boy who has been very severely beaten, maybe by his father. But again, there is more to this than meets the eye at first.
Yes, there is a lot of angst in beautiful, snowy Iceland this Christmas.

While the story and the setting and the writing itself are spare and a bit bleak, the author's great ability to develop these characters, including even the victim, and a glimpse of Icelandic culture, raises what might otherwise be an ordinary police procedural to another level. The third in a series, along with 'Jar City' and 'Silence of the Grave', 'Voices' is a very fine stand alone mystery. I know that I will be going back and reading the previous two and then will catch up on the latest, 'The Draining Lake'.

Now if I could just get the hang of these Icelandic names.....

Available from Amazon


  1. I love this writer. Voices was the first one I read and I thought it was great. I like something with a different setting. Jar City, also titled Tainted Blood was good too. I have The Draining Lake reserved at the library right now. I will come back to read your opinions on the others.

  2. As I said, I have not read the first two yet, but since I was lucky enough to get all three from the Early Reviewers program on LibraryThing, they are waiting in my TBR pile.
    I do hope we get to see a bit more of Iceland in the others though.

  3. I love Iceland! Have you heard of The Killer's Guide to Iceland by Zane Radcliffe? A little less noir, but very thrilling!

  4. No....I will have to check that out! There is something very suitable about Iceland for mysteries...but I am a sucker for any chilly, wild blown, hopefully seaside location.
    the only thing that would have improved this book was more Iceland!


please speak up, I LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU!!