New Crimes, Old Solutions, June 19, 2013 By
Dr. Frank Stech
Arnaldur Indridason, author of the Reykjavik Murder Mysteries, began the series with "Jar City" (also published as "Tainted Blood"). I read this novel after having read Indridason's "Artic Chill," the fifth of the series. His characters appear to evolve hardly at all. Indridason's main protagonist is Inspector Ehrlendur, who shares enough character flaws to be Martin Beck's fraternal twin and Kurt Wallandar's cousin: badly failed marriage, alcohol and/or tobacco addictions, troubled offspring wrestling with their own criminal and drug issues, bi-polar relationships with murder squad colleagues, borderline insubordination with police authorities -- you get the picture.
Like the Martin Beck, Kurt Wallander, and other ScandiNoir police procedural mystery series, Indridason's supporting cast (Detectives Elinborg and Sigurdur Oli) is colorful, but not nearly as entertaining and frustrating as Wallander's or Beck's fellow cops. (But then who could be as interesting as Gunwald Larrson?) Icelanders probably just aren't as jolly and carefree as those happy-go-lucky Swedes.
Inspector Ehrlendur has a 70 year old murder victim with an unsavory history of forty-year-old crimes, including rape. Titling the book "Tainted Blood" dumb-downs the suspense significantly; "Jar City" was a far better and far more artistic title.
No TV CSI magic here, no Sherlock geniuses, just gritty murder investigation. Ehrlendur and his crew do their detecting with good old-fashioned police procedures: shoe-leather interviews, victim analyses, crime scene forensics, developing leads and following up, repeating this over and over until they form cloudy hypotheses, then investigating still more to crystallize them.
Set all this police work against the foul, gloomy, cold, dark, wet Iceland background, and you can feel icy rain running down the back of your collar as the Reykjavik murder cops link new and old deaths and crimes. Cold cases indeed.
Indridason has a real knack for letting us slowly piece together the edges and corners of the jigsaw, sometimes ahead of, sometimes behind, Inspector Ehrlendur and his crew. But we are hardly ever ready for the dark philosophical paradoxes at the center of the puzzle. This talented mystery writer digs up these deep conundrums along with the corpses, then lays out these parables on the pathology table. Indridason forces us to examine and dissect, trying to understand the human conditions that lead to and stem from tainted blood and foul murder.
Aging detective grapples with bizarre case while struggling to connect with troubled adult daughter in this unusual tale.