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Bibliophile reviews Kleifarvatn (mystery) by Arnaldur Indriðason

I have read all of Arnaldur's previous 5 books about Erlendur and co., but I have only reviewed one. I think maybe I should review the rest, at least the ones that have been translated into other languages.

German title: Kältezone Edit: the English title is The Draining Lake, translated by Bernard Scudder. Scudder died not long ago and will be sorely missed. He was an excellent tralslator.
Author: (alt. spelling) Arnaldur Indridason
Series detective: Erlendur Sveinsson and co.
No. in series: 6
Year of publication: 2004
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Police
Setting & time: Reykjavík, Iceland, 2004; Leipzig, East-Germany, 1950's
Number of deaths: 2
Some themes: Espionage, missing persons, socialism

Story: A scientist checking the water levels of lake Kleifarvatn discovers a human skeleton in a dried-up section of the lake bottom. This marks the beginning of a murder investigation that attempts to connect one of 5 missing men to the Russian-made radio transmitter that was dumped in the lake with the body. As the investigation rolls on, Erlendur, the officer leading the investigation, deals with personal problems while somewhere in Reykjavík a man remembers his stay as a student in East-Germany in the fifties and the tragedy that led to the death of the man in the lake.

Here's what the lake looked like around the time the story happens. It has since filled up again.


Review: This book is nearly as good as the previous two or three by Arnaldur. It is not as dark, but still just as starkly realistic. There's nothing cosy about about it, but neither is it hardboiled. He manages to make the long investigation believable, something which is quite a task since most of Iceland's real murders have been simple affairs that have been solved quickly. The scenes from East-Germany are quite realistic as well and draw up an image of the squalor of life there in the fifties and the socialist (and anti-socialist) fervour of the students.

While I am not particularly fond of police stories that include too much of the protagonists' personal problems, I will say that Arnaldur does make them somewhat interesting, and even manages to tie some of Erlendur's personal life into the crime story. What I do not like is the reiteration of events from previous books that has nothing to do with the investigation, gets longer and clumsier with each book, and slows down the action. The people themselves, especially the repeat characters, Erlendur and his team, are realistic and interesting characters, but it is possible to overdo the personal interest factor.

The story is organised in a way similar to a couple of other of Arnaldur's books, including Silence of the Grave, with alternating modern chapters about the police, their work and personal lives, and flashback chapters where the story of the events that lead up to the crime is told. The flashback chapters where a character reminisces about Leipzig are short(ish) and take up not quite every other chapter, and while we know he is somehow involved, we don't get to know how or who died until near the end of the story, although of course there are suspicions.

The final paragraph of this review contains a spoiler, which is why I have moved it to the bottom of the review, where you can read it if you don't mind spoilers.

Rating: A good, solid, realistic murder mystery. 3+ stars, would have been 4+ except for reasons that are stated above and in the spoiler (see below).
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A little lower....
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...almost there...
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...here we go:

SPOILER:
Lastly, I would like to mention that there is a suicide ending. It becomes pretty obvious by the middle of the story that the character involved has little or nothing to live for, and in fact Arnaldur manages to make it seem that the suicide is something the character has been thinking about for a long time. I'm not saying it excuses the cliché, but it is in character for the person, which goes a long way towards excusing the ending (but not quite).

Comments

Maxine Clarke said…
Well, as you know I am a big fan based on the two books of his that are so far translated into English. So I haven't read a single word of your review! I am bookmarking it in Connotea Detective and will read it after I've read the book. Is it strange of me to like reading reviews of books after I've read the book? Maybe lots of people do that.

I wonder if you are Icelandic or if English is your native language? Either way, I admire tremendously your bilingual ability.
Bibliophile said…
Maxine, I think it's probably easier to be bilingual when your native language is as small as mine. Icelandic is only spoken by a tiny number of people outside Iceland, so in order to communicate with the outside world we have to learn foreign languages.

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