Black Skies Review

In Black Skies, Arnaldur Indridason’s latest mystery novel set in Iceland, the main character of the series, Erlendur, is still missing. He has gone away for a holiday but has stayed longer than expected. The problem of solving a murder falls on one of his subordinates, Sigurdur Oli, whom readers have got to know in previous novels. In the early novels, there was Erlendur, Sigurdur Oli and Elinborg. However, we only catch a glimpse of Elinborg for she is in charge of another investigation.

There are reminders of Erlendur and his absence. His daughter calls, looking for him. A strange derelict haunts the novel with a paper bag he wants to give to Erlendur. This derelict, Andres, has appeared in previous novels. Erlendur has been obsessed through previous novels with the death of his younger brother when they were children. They were lost in a snow storm. Erlendur let go of his brother’s hand and when rescuers came and found Erlendur, they never found his younger brother. Since then Erlendur has been obsessed with his brother’s death and has searched the heath for his remains at every opportunity. Erlendur is inclined to be morose and brooding. There is a line in the novel where a character mentions that Erlendur was interested in an area where there were some lakes. The possibility of his suicide lies behind all the activity in the novel.

Black Skies stands up well as a novel in its own right. The main character, Sigurdur Oli, is an interesting character, one deeply flawed with serious limitations that cause him to make decisions that someone less flawed would avoid. In previous novels where he has been a secondary character, the reader has not seen much of his background. He’s married, he and his wife can’t have children, he likes to BBQ, he prefers American popular culture, he’s a snob, particularly about clothes (it’s a common Icelandic quality).  In this novel, we get to see further into his life and character as we meet his domineering mother and his wimpy father.

We also get a closer look at his values. He resents the Icelanders in Reykjavik who are living a high life, owning extravagant houses and expensive cars, all on credit as the economic boom accelerates. The crash has not yet happened. Greed and ambition abound and Sigurdur Oli wonders if he’s made the wrong decision in becoming a policeman. The people he’s investigating are hiring musical groups to play at parties in their homes. They have the best of everything.

Once again, Indridason has fashioned a tightly structured novel with an intricate plot. The unravelling of the plot is interesting, the connections sometimes surprising, but equally interesting is the way in which the underbelly of Icelandic society is revealed.

Everyone reading this novel, does so with at least some awareness of the boom and bust in Iceland, the Kreppa. The novel takes us into the seamy but common side of the financial fraud and manipulation that went on. Icelanders, in reality, place great emphasis on appearance and material success. They want nothing but the best. The best clothes, the best furniture, the best appliances, the best houses, the best cars, the best holidays. At the same time, there are those who do not get to participate in this rush to grab as much of the best as possible. There are the drunks, the street people, the drug dealers, the drug addicts, the senselessly violent, the sexually risky.

In this novel Indridason manages to pull all these people together into an intricate plot that leads this reader of mystery novels to say buy this book, put it under the Christmas tree.

 

Indridason: Hypothermia, summer reading

 

These are the lazy days of summer. These are hammock days, days for lying on the Toronto couch (if you have one) at the beach and losing yourself in summer reading. If you are in Gimli, Manitoba, go to Tergesen’s bookstore and buy a murder mystery by Indridason. He’s Iceland’s best murder mystery writer. Not just Iceland’s, he’s one of the best. His novels are perfect, I’m at the beach, it’s hot out, I’ve got a cold drink, I want something to read, solutions. If you aren’t lucky enough to be in Gimli for the Gimli Film Festival this week, you can find Indidason’s novels in most bookstores. The quality paperback versions are out so you won’t mind getting sand among the pages.

I’m a great fan of Indridason’s writing and his main character, Erlendur. Here’s what I had to say of Hypothermia in an earlier review.

Hypothermia by Arnaldur Indridason kept me up last night. I haven’t stayed up reading until one in the morning for many years. On the ferry home from Salt Spring Island, I kept reading, and when I got home, I started a fire in the woodstove and continued to read. Except for making a cup of coffee, I did nothing else.

I have a friend who says she is in love with Erlendur, the detective in this murder mystery. He is the main character in a number of Indridason’s novels. I understand. Erlendur is one of those unforgettable characters, as un-Jamesbondish as its possible to be, flawed, frustrating, obsessed. He was a terrible husband and not much of a father. His own life has been completely messed up by the loss of his brother in a blizzard in rural Iceland.

Hypothermia isn’t a police procedure novel. The story begins with the suicide of a woman called Maria. Her death seems quite straight forward. There’s nothing to indicate that anything is amiss. Maria’s mother has died some time before. Maria has been depressed, unhappy, has her own obsession, a desire to know if there is life after death. Her husband is a respectable doctor.

Something, though, doesn’t seem quite right and when one of Maria’s friends comes to Erlendur to tell him that Maria couldn’t possibly have committed suicide, he begins to ask questions. There’s no indication of a crime and official police investigation. However, Erlendur is like a dog with bone. He can’t quit chewing on it.

The brilliance of Idridason’s writing lies in his ability to juggle plot elements. Along with Erlendur’s inquiries into an expanding circle of people connected to Maria, he is still bothered by the disappearance of a young woman and a young man. There seems to be no connection between them. The case of the young man is kept alive for Erlendur because the parents and after the mother’s death, the father’s coming to the office once a year and, gradually, every few years, to ask if there has been anything found of them.

Idridason is highly skilled in that he plants tiny details in the story that at later stages have major implications. In the case of the miss young woman and man, he has a character describe the young woman’s car as being a bit of a wreck, the passenger door being stuck, the window handles not working. It seems one of those background details of no significance. By the time the novel is over, these details turn out to be critical to events.

My friend who says she loves Erlendur also says that she only reads a set amount of pages each day because she doesn’t want to give up reading about him, his travails with his children and his ex-wife, his grief over his lost brother, his determination to follow obscure possibilities until they fit together like a jigsaw puzzle to reveal a whole picture.

Put it under your Christmas tree. Even non-fans of murder mysteries will be intrigued by this complex personality.