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JAR CITY: A Reykjavík Thriller

By Arnaldur IndriĞason
Translated by Bernard Scudder

Picador, 2004 ($15.00 US)
ISBN-13: 978-0-312-42683-5
Kindle eBook: $ 9.99

Reviewed by Larry Jung
(March, 2012)

The police are called when a man accidently discovers the body of his 70 year neighbor who lived alone in a basement flat. Detective Inspector Erlendur of the Reykjavík Criminal Investigations Division (CID) arrives first on the scene. The dead man is laying on his right side, a large wound on his head. Not far away is a heavy glass ashtray with sharp corners covered in blood. A coffee table is overturned. Inspector Erlendur walks around the flat of the murdered man. The Inspector asks himself the simplest questions, investigating the obvious. It is for forensics to discover what is not obvious. There is not much to go on. He is soon joined by his colleague Detective Sigurfur Oli, who remarks, "Isn't this your typical Icelandic murder? Squalid, pointless and committed without any attempt to hide it, change the clues, or conceal the evidence." Erlendur replies that it does look like a pathetic Icelandic murder, but for one puzzling thing: a note is left on the body with just three words written in pencil, the meaning of which the two policemen cannot figure out. The investigation to discover the meaning of theses three words will lead Erlendur to reopen a cold case involving rape and paternity as well as examining his own issues with his drug addicted daughter Eva Lind.

The author writes a compelling police procedural that examines the peculiarly insular society and culture that is the island country of Iceland. The narrative flows effortlessly back and forth among the various characters. The author shows he has profound insights into what makes people like you and me tick in times of crisis. Quickly Erlendur sees the murder of an old recluse is somehow tied to questions of paternity and how cruel life can be to the innocent, particularly "children that were born and no-one wanted and children who died in that little community, Iceland, where everyone seemed related or connected in some way." (Page 220)

There is a poignant passage between Erlendur and the murderer. The murderer said that his daughter asked him once in the hospital where she was being treated why do we have eyes. He answered her so that we could see. The daughter corrected him, saying that it was so we could cry. (Page 372)

Erlendur the policeman is only successful because Erlendur the father can come to a place where he can love and not judge the damaged human being who is dearest to him, his daughter Eva Lind. I strongly recommend JAR CITY for its spare prose, satisfying mystery, and haunting ending. The prestigious Glass Key Award for best Nordic crime novel was awarded to JAR CITY.

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