Sunday, April 5, 2009

Sunday Salon: Review- ARCTIC CHILL by Arnaldur Indridason

Translated from the Icelandic by Bernard Scudder and Victoria Cribbb
Publisher: Harvill Secker
ISBN: 9781846550652
344 Pages

On a cold January day the Reykjavik police are called to the scene of a crime. A nine year old boy of Asian descent lies dead; frozen to the ground in a pool of his own blood. He has been stabbed in the stomach. The boy’s Thai mother and his fifteen- year-old half brother are both devastated by his death. Has racism reared its ugly head and caused the death of this young innocent?

It is up to Inspector Erlendur and his team, Elinborg and Sirgurdur Oli to find out who would want to kill a little boy in such a brutal fashion. They all hope that racism hasn’t reared its ugly head and been the reason for the death of this young innocent.

What is it about Northern European countries that is churning out so many fine crime writers? Is it the long cold winters that keeps people indoors and fires their imagination? Or is there something darker in their souls? Whatever it is, add Iceland to the list of countries producing top-flight writers.

In ARCTIC CHILL, Indridason was written a very solid police procedural indeed. But he has done much more than that. He also explores the issues of immigration and racism. Indridason also strikes a nice balance between the work of the detectives and their lives outside of their work. In particular, the reader learns more about Erlendur and his childhood which helps explain more about the man.

I do admit to some initial confusion with the names. Why are Erlendur and Elinborg just referred to by single names (I’m assuming surnames) and why is Sirgurdur Oli always given two names? The same thing arises with Erlendur’s children. If anyone knows the answer I’d be interested to know. It’d save me considerable googling time. I’m afraid I can offer no prizes other than the inner glow of satisfaction you’d get from enlightening me and my grateful thanks. So if that floats your boat, feel free.


Barbara said...

I can't explain the double-barreled Sigurdur Oli, but the others have single names in general use because Icelanders don't have surnames. They have their given name and a patronymic - Erlendur is Erlandur Sveinsson, but rarely uses his full name. Arnaldur is the author's name, and he's the son of Indridi Thorsteinsson, who was no doubt the son of Thorstein, son of someone else. It's one of the endearingly small-island traditionalism of Icelandic culture.

Sunnie Gill said...

Thanks Barbara, that explains part of it at least. It seemed odd that every reference to those two characters used two names. It wasn't as if anyone else had similar ones.

The benefits and pitfalls of a tiny nation. I saw or read that there was a project that mapped almost all of Iceland's DNA. Valuable for research I imagine, but there's also a storm over possible sale/piracy of that information.

Dorte H said...

Interesting review.
I have read and enjoyed Indridason´s first novels, but not got around to this one yet.

One of the things I like about the series is the Icelandic setting & the names.

Kerrie said...

took me a while to get used to the names too Sunnie.
My review is at

Kerrie said...

JAR CITY is about the DNA issue Sunnie

Barbara said...

And that is actually the subject of the first English-language translation of Arnaldur's series, Jar City - good book!

The DNA project ultimately dribbled away, in a sense. The citizenry were not happy that the government gave the information to a private corporation on top of the privacy concerns, and their Supreme Court overturned the law that supported the project. The company never realized its ambitions. Still good material for a mystery, though.

Sunnie Gill said...

I don't blame them, Barbara. That much information in the hands of a corporation sounds a bit dangerous and the potential for misuse would be great I imagine. Or fancy holding that sort of information up for ransom to the highest bigger to make a profit.