This novel, which won the Best Nordic Crime Award in the year it was published, is a worthy successor to the magnificent “Jar City” (now republished as Tainted Blood). In it Indridason tells three tales in parallel: the investigation into the identity of the bodies found in a shallow grave and two tales featuring domestic violence from the days of WWII.
To be honest, the strength of this novel doesn’t actually lie in the traditional murder mystery but in the depth of the social commentary. Abused wives and children still exist, but the behaviour of the abuser is no longer tolerated and social mechanisms are in place to protect the vulnerable. 60 years ago this was not the case and the portrait Indridason paints of a wife-batterer and his family is powerful and harrowing, yet never voyeuristic. He is more concerned with the psychological destruction of the soul rather than the physical breaking of bones.
The other strength of this novel is his downtrodden detective, Erlendur, whose family life is as traumatic as that of the people he investigates. Is Erlendur, who is portraited realistically, warts and all, partly to blame? This mystery is offered alongside the traditional murder and it is one for which there is no open and shut case.
I read this novel in 2 sittings. It’s fabulous. Indridason is a phemonenon. During one week in the summer of 2003, his crime novels occupied the top five spots in the Icelandic bestseller list. This novel deservingly won the CWA Gold Dagger in the year before they founded the Duncan Lawrie Dagger (for works originally published in English) and the Duncan Lawrie International Dagger (for those translated into English). Three of his novels have now been published in English. The fourth is due in August 2007. I, for one, can’t wait!