On an icy January day the Reykjavik police are called to a block of flats where a body has been found in the garden: a young, dark-skinned boy, frozen to the ground in a pool of his own blood. The discovery of a stab wound in his stomach extinguishes any hope that this was a tragic accident.
There are some authors who are on my buy immediately list. Some of these books I can happily hoard - waiting until just the right moment to sit and enjoy them. And there are the ones that are buy and read immediately. ARCTIC CHILL has definitely been one of those books. As soon as it arrived in the house it danced around before my eyes until I could finish what I was reading and start this one.
And you know when you've picked up a fabulous book because you find yourself sitting in the car, reading it - "it's no problem I can wait in the car while you run in and do ......". You don't mind missing meals, you forget your favourite TV shows and you're finding excuses to miss meetings and social events so that you can just finish this book.
ARCTIC CHILL is also one of those unputdownable books because of the stylish way in which it scratches a number of itches - works on those points that I think make good crime fiction stand head and shoulders above many other possible reading options for me.
There's discussion and revelations of the society in which the crime occurs. In this case there is some stark observations of the difficulties of immigration within Icelandic society - from both the immigrants and the native resident viewpoint. The portrayal of both sides of the issue was fair, and deftly done - no preaching / no overt support for one side or the other. Many of these elements have considerable echoes with issues that arise in my own country, and the reminder that intolerance, suspicion as well as acceptance can be anywhere is both timely and pointed.
There's also one of those tremendous senses of place. Not just because Iceland is different climatically from elsewhere, but also in the way that the society itself is portrayed. Obviously it's a much smaller country than so many others, and their societal structures work differently from many that - for example - I'm used to. But the way that the Icelandic sensibility is portrayed in all of the Indridason books is revealing, without being a travelogue, too sentimental or too much of a documentary.
There are also great individual characters. The focus switches a little around a central group of police investigators all of whom take a different prominence throughout the individual stories, and throughout all the books. The central investigator though, the wonderfully rumpled, questioning, almost quixotic Erlendur always remains the central focus of the team though. His own personal background is complicated by the disappearance of his brother as children - an event that he has never fully come to terms with - and his divorce from his wife and separation from his children. All throught their adult years Erlendur and his two children have struggled to form a relationship which works for them all, and that struggle, whilst not taking over from the investigation or the crimes in each book, adds a level of sadness and somewhat unexpectedly hope to Erlendur.
And finally there's a good story about the death of a little boy. A child who it seems nobody could possibly have wanted dead. Unless there is a racial motive. Maybe revenge. The ultimate resolution is stark in what it says about the true nature of so much violent crime.
These books are definitely police procedurals, but they incorporate a lot of social commentary and personal insight. As atmospheric perhaps as Henning Mankell's Wallender series, Erlendur, however, isn't Wallender and there's a very different personality at work here. If you haven't read any of Arnaldur Indridason's fabulous books, then start somewhere with the series. If you can go back to the beginning, then you'll learn about him and his team as the books progress, but each also stands alone if you can't. The books so far have been: