December 16, 2007


Another juicy cold case for Iceland's glum sleuth: a review of The Draining Lake by Arnaldur Indridason, translated by Bernard Scudder (
Jack Batten, 12/16/07, Toronto Star)

By his own description, Erlendur, a man in his 50s, is depressive and lonely, living in a gloomy apartment with no company except his shelves of books. He left his wife decades ago, and any contacts he has now with his two grown children slide into inevitable disaster. His daughter, Eva Lind, is a hopeless drug addict, and his son, Sidri, seems at best bemused by his father, at worst contemptuous.

In The Draining Lake, the new and most accomplished Erlendur novel, his private life seems on the brink of an upbeat nudge. Valgerdur, a good-looking biotechnician he met on an earlier case, is interested in pursuing a relationship with Erlendur. Naturally there are obstacles to the romance. Erlendur can't imagine what she sees in him, and besides, Valgerdur is married.

Meanwhile, in the crime-solving side of his life, Erlendur is working two cases that perfectly suit his sleuthing sensibilities. One involves a man who appears to have dissolved into thin air in the early 1960s, leaving behind nothing except a bereft girlfriend and a Ford Falcon with a missing hubcap, parked in a lot next to the train station.

The second of the two puzzles is more complex. When the water in Lake Kleifarvatn drops several metres suddenly, a hydrologist finds the skeleton of a man buried in the lake bed. The skeleton has a hole in its skull, and it has been weighted down with a Russian radio transmitter from – ah a! – the 1960s.

All those years ago, Iceland was the scene of mild Russian-American skirmishing during the Cold War. The U.S. set up an air base in the country, and Russian secret agents kept the base under intense clandestine watch. Today, Russians and Americans no longer spy on one another in Iceland – "We just go on the Internet like everybody else," the man at the Russian embassy tells Erlendur – but in the 1960s, espionage was big business.

While he's nicely drawn, Erlendur is not so unlike other detectives as to be exceptional. What really sets the series apart is the way the author bores into Iceland's history for his stories.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 16, 2007 8:38 AM
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