Silence of the Grave

If you know someone who likes murder mysteries, you have to put this book under that person’s  Christmas tree.
In Silence of the Grave, we see the police detective, Erlendur, caught up in what looks like a death that happened so long ago that it no longer matters. As his colleague, Sigurdur Óli, says, whatever happened, happened a long time ago. If there was anything untoward in the death, anyone involved would be dead by now. 
Sigurdur Óli is having his own problems. His live in partner is being overwhelmingly passionate and while he appreciates it, it also scares him because he senses that it is the precursor to a discussion about marriage and having children. During the course of the novel, he bobs and weaves, gives some ground, bargains for time.
 Elingborg, the third member of the police team, is a bit frustrated by Erlendur´s dogged persistence over something that probably doesn´t matter. There can be lots of reasons why a skelton might be uncovered in the building of a housing development. People do get buried outside of graveyards. It could be a forgotten burial plot. The discuss, argue the possibilities, all the while that an archologist and his team are carefully clearing the soil away from the remains.
Erlendur has his own personal problems. He´s obsessesed by the death of his brother in a blizzard many years before. He was holding his brother´s hand and in the cold and snow let go. Erlendur was rescued but his brother was never found. He´s also trying to cope with two children he abondoned to their mother twenty years earlier. His daughter, Eva Lind, has forced her way into his life, angry, resentful, bitter, defiant, accusing. During the novel, she clings ot life by a thread.
The mystery of the skeleton ends up involving many people, unearths many stories, reveals a dark side to Reykjavik past and present. It´s a side of Reykjavik that tourists seldom glimpse, a world of drugs, prostitution, and violence.
Indridason, in creating the detective, Erlendur, has created a character who is anything but a super-hero. He is filled with regrets, self-recrimination, blindnesses, an inability to deal effectively with personal relationships. He’s human. And that humanity makes him attractive, compelling, a person worth knowing.
Indridason’s ability to create and control a highly complex plot line is great. The murder mystery is wound intricately with the stories of Erlendur’s two colleagues, his family, the back story of events that took place during WWII.
He creates his setting quickly, easily, making it easy for the reader to see where the events take place. He expertly uses the setting to fore shadow  later events. On page 20, the narrator says, “Four bushes caught his attention, standing up out of the brush about 30 metres away. He walked over to them, and thought he could tell that they were redcurrant bushes. They were bunched together in a staright line to the east of the foundation and he wondered, storking his hands over the knobbly, bare branches, who would have planted them there in this no man’s land.”
In reading a novel by Indridason, don’t every pass over details lightly, dismissing them. They’ve been chosen carefully and no matter how innocuous they might seem, they lead the reader relentlessly toward the ending.
How engrossing is this murder mystery? I started reading it on the ferry to Salt Spring. Kept reading it, stopped only to put the occasional log on the fire and to eat a halibut dinner. There was much to be done but I ignored it all until the novel was finished. I’ll have to work twice as hard tomorrow but once and Indridason novel is begun, it is hard to put down.

Hypothermia, Indridason

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 wood stove 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 i’ts 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 there’s no 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, juggle plot and sub-plot and keep them unified. Along with Erlendur’s inquiries into an expanding circle of people connected to Maria, he is also bothered by the disappearance of a young woman and a young man many years before. 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 any news of his son.
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 missing 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 finish 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 Hypothermia under your Christmas tree. Even non-fans of murder mysteries will be intrigued by this complex personality.