filling our existential gaps

Peter Rozovsky is starting to read Sjowall and Wahloo’s Martin Beck series (though why we always consider it Beck’s series I don’t know – it has a strong ensemble cast). I predict he will enjoy the humor as well as the social criticism.

Crime Beat, the excellent South African blog, has some interesting things to say about the genre in general, and Scandinavian crime fiction in particular: “there is a mood that is pure Scandinavia in these books, a kind of existential landscape that fills some deep gap in the psyche of the international crime junky. And on top of it, Scandanavians buy more books per capita than anyone else in the world.” The author, Joe Muller, points to the essential morality of the books which are in tune with the element of redemption that Chandler located in the hero of the mean streets. He also discusses the brio of Italian crime fiction and Dutch split pea soup.

The Curious Book Fans blog has a review of Arnaldur Indridason’s Arctic Chill. The reviewer, Mary Bor, feels it’s a slight disappointment in a series that sets a very high bar. She misses the specific sense of place that sets the books apart:

This is a story that could have taken place in any European country: it doesn’t reveal anything new or surprising about how Icelanders feel about immigrants, especially at a time of financial crisis in that country. The previous books have at their core some topic that is intrinsically Iceland, perhaps based on a cultural or historical detail that roots the story firmly in Iceland and no other place.  Although Indridason does his usual fine job of depicting Iceland and, this time, what it is to live there during the long harsh winters, there was little of the essence that sets his books apart from those of other Scandinavian crime fiction writers.

It’s an interesting critique. Perhaps the fact that the setting feels like the rest of Europe actually does tell us something about Iceland – as its wave of new wealth changed its culture, some of its insular individuality behind as it joined the wider world. Personally, I thought the Icelanders’ reaction to immigrants was well depicted in this story, with people expressing their thoughts to the investigators in terms that were reserved, conflicted, full of awkward concern that the homogeneous society they had grown up with had changed, but either too fair-minded or too cautious to express resentment openly. I liked the shades and nuances of race relations painted here in something other than black and white.

Attitudes and demographics have likely shifted in response to the little country’s massive financial meltdown, but that happened after this book was written, which was first published in Iceland in 2005. The year after, when I interviewed Arnaldur, he talked about this book’s themes and how the new wealth in the country was altering attitudes and lifestyles in ways that his hero, Erlendur, a fan of rugged rural landscapes, traditional cuisine, and simple living would not appreciate.  The author told me nobody could figure out where the money was coming from, just that it had made everyone want more. The story of the decade.

I can’t remember what television program I was watching when I heard an Icelander comment on the financial mess. She said that those who think of Iceland as being cautious, safety-conscious, and well-regulated as other Scandinavian countries. “We are marauders,” she said, quite seriously. I am not sure how accurate that is, but I will be interested to see how the aftereffects of this extraordinary collapse looks over the shoulders of Erlendur’s investigative team in a future volume of this series.

2 thoughts on “filling our existential gaps

  1. I agree on “Arctic Chill.” I didn’t get as much of a sense of place as in Indridasson’s previous books, but I was curious about Icelanders’ attitude to immigrants, which I had known nothing about before I read this book.

    I did learn some things about this issue from reading this book, as well as appreciating the plot, pacing and characters. It is an interesting book.

    Indridasson: When folks ask me my favorite authors, I list five women’s names and then his.
    There is definitely something special about his books. They’re interesting, pull you in, have good character development and plots, plus a brooding depressed detective who has introspection, not too much or I’d drown in it, but enough to balance with plot, dialogue and characters.

    Kathy D.

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