This week’s post is from Michelle Peckham, a long time friend of Maxine.

Maxine was a long time friend of mine, as we met back in the early 1980s when we were both PhD students, carrying out research into how muscles work. Some time later, when Maxine was working for Nature, and I’d moved up to Leeds as a Lecturer, I happened to mention to her that I’d quite enjoyed reading some books by Michael Connelly, and had started reading quite a few crime books as a result. Maxine immediately started telling me about all the crime novelists I should try (Michael Connelly being one of her favourite authors). Her love of crime fiction led to her blog at Petrona, reviewing for Euro Crime, reviewing on Amazon and even tweeting snippets of crime news, and I always enjoyed reading her reviews. Maxine always had such good recommendations for books that she knew I’d particularly like, and of these were those from another one of her favourite authors, Arnaldur Indridason.  I am sure that she would have really enjoyed STRANGE SHORES, particularly with the return to the story of Erlendur, the solitary, slightly depressive, detective, forever burdened by the loss of his brother when he was just a young boy, a character she very much engaged with.

Maxine was a beautiful, kind person, with an enviable talent of being able to get under the skin of a book, and she is very much missed.

SShoresSTRANGE SHORES by Arnaldur Indridason is the eleventh in the series of Reykjavik Murder mysteries. This book focuses on the main detective, introduced to us in the first books, Erlendur. He is on holiday (something alluded to in the previous two books) and now we finally find out what he has been doing. There has been a long running story-line throughout these books about the death of Erlendur’s brother, and his continuous underlying guilt that he should have done more to save his brother Beggi from death.

As children, they were both lost in a blizzard. Erlendur was with Beggi and held his hand until suddenly Beggi was no longer there. Erlendur made it to safety, but Beggi was never found. Erlundur feels if only he could discover what happened to Beggi, it might help to bring some sort of closure. But his decision to come up to the East Fjords is also motivated by another disappearance, the disappearance of a young woman called Matthildur told to him in a story he heard as a child. Matthildur apparently disappeared in a storm many years ago, on her way to visit her sister. The same storm in which several British soldiers were also trapped, soldiers who were part of the occupying force during the war. It was simply assumed that Matthildur disappeared in the same storm, even though the British soldiers, in the same area, hadn’t seen her.

Staying in his parents’ ruined farmhouse, Erlundur thinks about the past, about Beggi, and Matthildur, and tries to find out what happened to both of them. The difficulty with Matthildur is that her disappearance happened long ago, and those who might know something have kept their secrets for many years, and are reluctant to reveal what they know. Moreover, Erlundur is an ‘outsider’ and has to slowly build trust between himself and the people from the area who know what might have happened. But Erlundur’s gentle and insightful approach gradually persuades the various villagers to unburden themselves, and he gradually manages to piece together an idea of Matthildur’s life and the events that lead to her disappearance. In the process, he gradually comes to terms with the death of his own brother, and we learn more of the events at the time when Beggi disappeared, why Erlundur feels such guilt, and the effects on his own family of the disappearance of a beloved child.

STRANGE SHORES is a powerful and emotional book, Erlundur is a complex, quiet yet persuasive investigator that digs away gently to discover what happened long ago. The memories of the past, both his own and those of the friends, family and neighbours of Matthildur bring together an evocative picture of life in the Fjords, the environment and the various occupations of those living there. Erlundur is able to sit and watch quietly and impassively as various key players unburden themselves of events that happened long ago, events that are gruelling to remember and have tortured their emotions, just as the disappearance of Beggi has tortured Erlundur. Perhaps it is the very fact that Erlundur has lived through something similar, that he is able to persuade people to co-operate and tell Erlundur of their own hopes and fears about what happened when Matthildur disappeared. A beautiful book that really digs down deep into how people cope with a traumatic effect, and how it shapes their lives for many years afterwards. If you haven’t read this series of books yet, this can be read as a stand-alone book, and will surely set you off on the trail of reading the remaining eight books available in English.

Highly recommended and one of my favourite reads of the year.

Book Details:

author: Arnaldur Indridason
original language: Icelandic
translator: Victoria Cribb
publication date (UK): 2013 (original publication 2010)

Contributor Details:

Michelle is a regular reviewer for Euro Crime.


JAR CITY by Arnuldur Indriðason

This week’s much loved crime novel is shared by Keishon whose home on the web is Yet Another Crime Fiction Blog where she discusses an eclectic mix of crime writers from early American writers to modern Scandinavians and Irish stalwarts.

Jar City1JAR CITY (aka TAINTED BLOOD in the US) is written by Arnaldur Indriðason and translated from the Icelandic by Bernard Scudder. JAR CITY is the first translated book in the series featuring Reykjavik detective Erlendur. Note on Icelandic names: according to the author, people address each other by their first names only and address very few with surnames.

This crime fiction novel is a well thought out and well written police procedural that exemplifies why I love Scandinavian crime fiction so much. From beginning to end the story had one plot twist after another to keep you turning the pages. The novel begins with Detective Erlendur investigating the murder of a 69 year old lorry driver named Holberg. He’s been found dead in his basement flat, hit over the head with an ashtray. Next to his body lies a cryptic note and in his personal effects is a picture of a young girl’s grave.

Jar City2Turns out the little girl died of a rare brain tumor. This piece of information leads Erlendur to the girl’s doctor. The doctor tells Erlendur about Jar City. It’s a storage facility where organs are collected from hospitals and kept in glass jars. But the place is now disbanded. The rest of the book has Erlendur and his team tearing up Holberg’s past to find a murder suspect with a possible genetic link. That’s the basic premise. So how did I enjoy this author and his book?

JAR CITY is a well written mystery led by an interesting protagonist. I liked Erlendur. He’s a fifty something, divorced father of two grown children. He’s also a seasoned detective who chain smokes. He has an embattled relationship with his daughter Eva Lind who flits in and out of Erlendur’s life. She’s a drug addict. Eventually the two find some middle ground with Eva Lind acting as Erlendur’s sounding board as he struggles with a case that seems to give him bad dreams at night.

What I enjoyed about JAR CITY was the tight plotting and the atmosphere of the story and of course the setting. The mood or tone is one that is bleak with the weather constantly always dark clouds and rain. There is a bit of black humor in the story to lighten up the mood as only one can when dealing with murder investigations. I liked that the villain was not a serial killer. The crime in here is instigated by rage and is well written. It’s not the usual mindless violence that you find in other mediocre crime fiction novels. This is just a smartly written crime fiction novel.

Overall, JAR CITY is a satisfactory read that delivered. If you enjoy police procedurals featuring a brooding detective with a great supporting cast and are a fan of exotic settings, then I highly recommend this author to you. My grade is a B+. Happy reading to you.

Book Details:

author: Arnaldur Indriðason (learn more at euro crime, wikipedia)
original language: Icelandic
translator: Bernard Scudder
publication date (UK): 2004

Contributor Details:

Keishon reviews and discussed the work of an eclectic mix of authors and includes Åsa Larsson, Daniel Woodrell and Jo Nesbo among her favourite writers. She is one of the people who prompted me to try, and subsequently fall in love with, the writing of Ken Bruen.

The Inaugural Petrona Award Shortlist

The winner of the first Petrona Award for the Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year will be announced on 1 June at CrimeFest in Bristol. The award has been created to honour the memory of Maxine Clarke who, blogging as Petrona, was tirelessly promoting Scandinavian crime fiction translated into English long before Stieg Larsson grabbed the world’s attention. This year’s shortlist was derived from Maxine’s published reviews of Scandinavian crime fiction published in the UK in 2012 and the contenders are:

PiercedEngerPIERCED by Thomas Enger, translation by Charlotte Barslund which Maxine thought even better than Enger’s excellent debut novel (BURNED). In this novel the journalist at the heart of this Norwegian series, Henning Juul is asked to find evidence that a prisoner due for an appeal hearing is innocent of the crime he has been convicted of. The carrot dangled before the vulnerable journalist is that Tore Pulli, the prisoner, claims to know something about the fire which injured Juul and killed his young son. Maxine thought the many threads of PEIRCED “combine to make the novel a great combination of detection and thriller”, found it “endearing that Juul sees the world through the eyes of a wordsmith” and enjoyed the occasional references: for crime fiction aficionados such as the mention of French anti-corruption magistrate and turned novelist  Eva Joly.

BlackSkiesIndridasonBLACK SKIES by Arnaldur Indridason, translation by Victoria Cribb, is set partly in the recently turbulent world of the Icelandic financial sector and centres on detective Sigurdur Óli who is asked by an old friend for some discreet help when his sister-in-law and her husband are being blackmailed due to an ill-considered episode of wife-swapping. When Sigurdur Óli discovers the blackmailer dead he decides to investigate the case without telling his colleagues all the salient facts. Maxine’s review includes this summary

…an author as experienced as Indridason never forgets that he’s writing a crime novel first and foremost; the plot is a satisfying and topical one. It is well-paced, as Sigurdur Óli’s and the official lines of enquiry obscure each other until they merge; the story then takes a sudden new direction – which is when the author fully gets his teeth into the financial cowboys (“the new Vikings”) that have wrecked his country’s economy and the lives of many of its citizens. Yet the author also provides us with an excellent character study of Sigurdur Óli, whose arrogance at the start of the book gives way to some personal insight and maturity by the end, partly by his new willingness to examine his relationships with friends and family, but in particular via the tragic case of Anders [a local addict whose revenge fantasy plays out in parallel with the main story].

LastWillMarklundLiza15232_fLAST WILL by Liza Marklund, translation by Neil Smith is the sixth novel to feature Swedish journalist Annika Bengtzon and Maxine thought it “…a fantastic, intelligent crime thriller, containing all the elements [she loved] about the genre.” As it opens Annika is attending the annual Nobel prize banquet on behalf of the paper when the laureate for medicine and the head of the Nobel committee are shot. Because she is a witness Annika is not allowed to cover the incident but does carry on an unofficial investigation. Maxine went on to say of LAST WILL

It is a clever, muscular thriller, combining exciting action with analyses of many contemporary issues: the dangers of security and terrorist legislation, in particular in the tragic case of a man accused of the Nobel atrocity; the plight of modern journalism and what proprietors do to survive in the internet era; the politics of the science profession and the scope for corruption by the financial interests of drug companies; some great descriptions of biological research; the ethics of scientific publication; and, underlying it all, a cracking, puzzling crime – why was the Nobel victim chosen, who was behind the events of that night, and what is the relationship between the first and subsequent crimes? None of these themes is treated as a cliché or in any predictable way; each is attacked with a fresh perspective by the author, abetted by Annika’s characteristic refusal to compromise.

AnotherTimePerssonANOTHER TIME, ANOTHER LIFE by Leif G.W. Persson, translation by Paul Norlen, is the second part of a trilogy subtitled ‘the story of a crime’ and opens with a consideration of a terrorist attack on the German embassy in Stockholm in 1975 before moving on to a 1989 murder investigation and an even more modern investigation a further ten years after that. After observing some stylistic and topical links to the work of eminent Swedish crime writers Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo Maxine says of the book’s opening segment

The presentation of this first, short section of the book is so distinctive, setting the tone for the rest. It is measured and sober, describing enormities of violence, procedural deficiencies, and institutional stupidities in dispassionate terms, allowing the reader to absorb their full impact. The author’s refusal to be overtly opinionated at first gives his words a face-value authority, but as the book progresses one sees the extent to which the author is wooing the reader to his particular subversive perception of his country’s criminal justice system.

She finishes her review with these thoughts

There are many layers of subtlety in this gripping novel which I haven’t addressed in this brief review, but which I greatly appreciated – in particular the acute characterisations, including (in some cases) the disparities between people’s thoughts and actions. I can only urge you to read it. I eagerly devoured every word, even though it is a very long book. In its superb anatomy of Sweden using the police and criminal justice system as a metaphor, as well as many of the ways characters are presented and evolve, Leif Persson is the true heir of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, authors of the best crime-fiction series ever written.

You still have a couple of weeks to read all four titles vying for the first Petrona Award and, until 29 May, you can vote on which of the novels you think will win the award and which of them you want to win the award. Head over to Euro Crime to vote and stay tuned to find out which of these fantastic novels takes out the inaugural Petrona Award.

VOICES by Arnaldur Indriðason

The administrators of Petrona Remembered decided to commence the site’s homages to great crime fiction by reproducing one of Maxine Clarke’s own reviews. While she read diversely across the genre it seemed appropriate to us that at least on this first occasion we share Maxine’s thoughts on one of the Scandinavian authors she loved so much.

VoicesVOICES, the third book by Arnaldur Indridason to be translated into English, is even better than the first two, and that’s saying something, as SILENCE OF THE GRAVE, the previous outing for Inspector Erlendur, deservedly won last year’s CWA Gold Dagger. Each book covers a narrower canvas than the previous one, but reveals and explores more of Erlendur’s psyche. This increasing depth and focus is, for me, what makes this crime-fiction series among the most excellent I have read.

The doorman at a Reykjavik hotel is murdered in his basement room on-site, wearing his “part-time Santa Claus” outfit, just before Christmas. Erlendur and his team investigate the death of this long-term employee, whom his colleagues neither noticed nor liked, against the disapproval and even hostility of the hotel staff. Erlendur suffers a kind of seasonal paralysis, and rather than return to his empty, dingy flat at the end of the first day of the investigation, impulsively takes a room at the hotel – more to spite the manager than anything else. It isn’t a nice room and the heating doesn’t work, but it forms the nucleus for the story over the few days that follow, as Erlendur observes and absorbs the “voices” and rhythms of the hotel, and has to try to explain to various colleagues and his daughter why he isn’t “home for Christmas”, even though he is not fully aware of his reasons.

As Erlendur discovers more about the victim and the sad life he led, the title of the book becomes apparent. The “voice” of the victim, all-powerful as a child, has gradually diminished over the years until nobody knew or cared about the man he had become; his voice has, literally, disappeared. Simultaneously, Erlendur sinks into an introspective mood, triggered by the long-ago events and family dynamics he uncovers in the murder investigation. Driven by a hopeless urge to find a way to relate to Eva Lind, his tragic daughter, to prevent her falling back into her old life, he struggles to connect with the voices of his own past. Both for his daughter and for his hopes of a new relationship after his disastrous marriage and subsequent years of solitude, Erlendur is forced to relive a childhood tragedy, and acknowledge its effects on himself and his parents.

Another “voice” is that of a badly beaten boy, whose mother is in a mental hospital and whose short-fuse father is about to go bankrupt. Erlendur’s colleague Elinborg is convinced that the boy’s father is to blame for the attack, rather than the alleged perpetrators (some schoolboys), and has been trying to coax the silent child to speak out from his hospital bed. Will the boy find his voice and testify, or will the police team find his voice on his behalf, to protect him from the perpetrator, before the case collapses due to lack of evidence or witnesses?

None of the underlying themes and tensions in the book impede the pace. The story of the two crimes and their investigation are deftly handled, being believable and sad, rather than lurid and/or ultimately stretching credibility, like so many genre examples. Indriðason is masterly in the way he makes the story of each crime suspenseful yet at the same time an elegy for sad and lonely lives of most of those involved. Part of the book’s strength lies in the investigation of past emotional landscapes, which adds insight and emotion to what could otherwise, in terms of basic plot structure, be as shallowly exciting as Agatha Christie. The author (and his translator, who seems to have served him well) has written a spare, direct text, with dashes of grim humour and neat character observations, that slips by so that you have finished the book before you’ve noticed. But the voices will echo on, and you’ll be waiting keenly for the next instalment.

This review was first published at Euro Crime in March 2007 (reproduced with the permission of the site owner)

Book Details:

author: Arnaldur Indriðason (learn more at euro crimewikipedia)
original language: Icelandic
translator: Bernard Scudder
publication date (UK): August 2006

Contributor Details:

Maxine Clarke was the passionate crime fiction reader, reviewer and advocate who inspired this site.