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Icelandic mystery series of those gloomy Swedish detectives?   Perhaps it’s time to dip into some Icelandic crime novels.

Arnaldur Indridason’s novels about Detective Inspector Erlendur Sveinsson of Reykjavik, may be a good introduction to Icelandic crime fiction. Erlendur is less gloomy than Wallender, but he is just as disheartened by the stupidity and greed that motivates criminals. He is also burdened with a dysfunctional family: he is divorced and estranged from his two drug-abusing children. Modern Iceland is relatively peaceful and murder is rare, but the seamy underside of Reykjavik keeps Erlendur busy. These novels are well-paced and suspenseful. At times the author captures the strange and menacing emptiness of the landscape. Icelandic names present a problem for catalogers. The last name is a patronymic, not a family name; thus a person is properly referred to by his or her given (first) name. Best to look for Indridason’s books under both A and I. (Ditto for Sigurdardottir).

Reykjavik Nights (Minotaur, 2015) is a prequel about young Erlendur’s first case.

1. Jar City (2004)

2. Silence of the Grave (2006)

3. Voices (2007)

4. The Draining Lake (2008)

5. Arctic Chill (2009)

6. Hypothermia (2009)

7. Outrage (2011)

8. Black Skies (2012)

9. Strange Shores (2014)

Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s books are about as different from Indridason’s as they can get. Thora Godmundsdottir is a Reykjavik lawyer who invariably gets drawn into the problems of her clients. She manages to juggle her legal work, her amateur sleuthing, and the care of her teenaged son and six-year-old daughter without much help from her unsatisfactory ex-husband. Thora is personable, but no-nonsense and diligent in her sleuthing. Her knowledge of the law and willingness to ask uncomfortable questions (a la Miss Marple) enable her to get to the bottom of some very knotty puzzles. Interesting characters take precedence over suspense in these cozies with an exotic setting. Sigurdardottir is a civil engineer as well as an author.

1. Last Rituals (2007)

2. My Soul to Take (2009)

3. Ashes to Dust (2010)

4. The Day is Dark (2011)

5. Someone to Watch over Me (2015)

The sixth book in the series, The Silence of the Sea, has been published in England by Hodder and Stoughton.

Quentin Bates is an Englishman who lived in Iceland for ten years. Young Icelandic policewoman, Gunna Gisladottir is the protagonist of this series. In the first book, Frozen Assets, Officers Gisladottir and Hvalvik investigate when a dead body is found floating in the harbor of their ordinarily peaceful Icelandic fishing village. Eventually, a web of corruption connected to Iceland’s business and banking communities is uncovered. In the next book, Gunna has accepted promotion to Sergeant in the Reykjavik police department, where she is still getting accustomed to her role as a manager. In addition to watching the prickly and Gunna grow into an astute and effective police detective, the reader also learns about Iceland’s financial collapse. Summerchill and Winterlude are short stories available on Kindle.

1. Frozen Assets (2011)

2. Cold Comfort (2012)

3. Chilled to the Bone (2013)

4. Cold Steal (published in England, 2014)

We will have to wait to read Stella Blomkvist’s novels; none of them have reached the U.S. Stella is the author, narrator and protagonist of a series of thrillers set primarily in Reykjavik. Stella is an ambitious young lawyer–smart, beautiful and single; every woman’s dream of power, sophistication and glamour. No surprise her fans are legion in Iceland. In fact, Blomkvist is a pseudonym of a well-known Icelandic public figure, so her insider’s take on politics and the media may just be authentic. These sound like fun, but we will have to wait for a translation to be sure.

1. The Bronze Statue (1997)

2. The Perfect Crime (2000)

3. The False Killer (2001)

4. The False Witness (2002)

5. Murder at Thingvellir (2005)

6. The Last Meeting (2006)

And last but not least, there is Hallgrimur Helgason, an award-winning Icelandic author whose only book available in English is the sardonic Hitman’s Guide to Housecleaning, published by Amazon Crossing in January 2012. Tomislav Boksic (aka Toxic) is a Croatian hitman who flees the U.S. after a botched assassination and finds himself unemployed and unemployable in Iceland. Imagine one of Carl Hiaasen’s characters in the frozen north. Here are some of his Rules for a Hitman:

Don’t miss the target. People tend to get a bit upset if they notice you’re trying to kill them.
Don’t waste a bullet. You have to think about the environment, too–you really shouldn’t add an unnecessary gunshot to an already noisy city.
Morning is for murder. Nobody expects a bullet for breakfast.
Don’t confuse killing and murder. Murder is for amateurs, killing is for the professionals.
Embrace every new passport they give you. It’s always nice to get a new life now and then.
Don’t kill the wrong guy. Or you’ll end up in Iceland.
When in Iceland, stop the killing. There are so few of them.

–post revised 4/11/2015


Posted April/27/2012

Driver is back

Darn, I missed the movie Drive starring Ryan Gosling.  The previews just didn’t grab me.  But now that I have read reviews of the book by James Sallis, I’m going to track it down.  Gosling plays Driver, the main character who works as a stunt driver by day and a getaway driver by night.  When double crossed, Driver becomes a monster of revenge. The New York Times Book Review called the book a “perfect piece of noir fiction.”  Not only is it a short, powerful story, but James Sallis is a first-class stylist who has been compared to Raymond Chandler.  His elegant prose is full of dark imagery.  Now the sequel, Driven (Poisoned Pen, 4/3/2012) picks up Driver’s story seven years later.  He has taken on a new identity and become a successful businessman, but his past is ready to catch up with him. Sallis is the author of two other series:  the Lew Griffin books and the books about the ex-con Turner. He has also written a biography of Chester Himes.

–posted 4/7/2012

Posted April/7/2012

New Robert Chow

In 1976 Vietnam War veteran Robert Chow has been taken on by the New York Police Department as a sop to Affirmative Action.  He is the only Chinese-American patrolman on the Chinatown beat and the only officer who can speak Cantonese. Chow’s supervisor dislikes him and his colleagues disregard him. And he fights to overcome his own inner demons–post-combat trauma and alcoholism. But he is determination to win promotion to detective status.  One Red Bastard (Minotaur, 4/24/2012) is the third volume in the series.  Chow has become a detective in training.  But his personal and professional lives collide when his girl friend, Lonnie, becomes the prime suspect in a case with potential international repercussions.  Lin, himself a Chinese-American, captures the insular and corrupt climate of this particular place and time in these thoughtful noir crime novels.

–posted  4/6/2012

Posted April/7/2012

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