When examining Icelandic Noir, it’s impossible to ignore Arnaldur Indridason books and the contribution he has made to the genre. Born in 1961 in Reykjavík, Indridason pursued a degree in history from the University of Iceland in 1996 and worked as a freelance writer before becoming a film critic for a local newspaper.
Indridason’s books mostly feature the protagonist Detective Erlendur who he brought to life in 1997. His first book, Sons of Dust (Synir duftsins) which came out in 1997 is not available in English. Same case applies to his subsequent novel Dauðarósir (Roses of Death, 1998). But the author got his break in the U.S. in 2005 when Minotaur Books published his third novel titled Jar City (or Mýrin in Icelandic).
Who is Detective Erlendur Sveinsson?
Erlendur, as it was first introduced to readers in Jar City, was around 50 years old, long divorced, with two kids in varying degrees of drug addiction. Her daughter Eva Lind, pregnant and still using, had a complex relationship with him. She feels a lot of anger towards him yet at times desperately asks for his help. Erlendur himself is an introvert person and spends countless hours in solitude besides his work studying his collection of papers missing people.
Indridason regularly mixes scenes from Erlendur personal life challenges with the criminal aspects of the stories. As a result, he has been able to create some of the most absorbing plots of the Scandinavian Noir genre. In 2011, the author made a flashback and after writing 11 novels in the series, featured a young detective Erlendur in The Great Match. This has also been the case in his last two novels Reykjavik Nights and Into Oblivion.
Order of Arnaldur Indridason Books Featuring Detective Erlendur
Sons of Dust (Synir duftsins – 1997). As of now, this novel is not available in English. The plot follows the deaths of a retired teacher in his home and the suicide of one his students. Local police suspects a relation between two cases. So Erlendur and his team investigate this further. Throughout the book, the author reveals the character of the detective bit by bit and we learn about his personal life issues and his daughter’s addiction problems.
Silent Kill (Dauðarósir – 1998). Similarly, the English translation of this book isn’t available either. The body of a young girl is found on the grave of Jon Sigurdson shortly after the celebrations on June 17. No one knows who she is, where she is or what the motive for her murder is. Much less why she was placed on the grave of independence hero of Iceland. The investigation reveals that the girl’s death is an offshoot of a much wider issue that concerns the whole nation.
Jar City (Mýrin – 2000). When a lonely old man is found dead in his Reykjavík flat, the only clues are a cryptic note left by the killer and a photograph of a young girl’s grave. Inspector Erlendur discovers that many years ago the victim was accused, but not convicted, of an unsolved crime, a rape. Did the old man’s past come back to haunt him? As Erlendur reopens this very cold case, he follows a trail of unusual forensic evidence, uncovering secrets that are much larger than the murder of one old man.
Silence of the Grave (Grafarþögn – 2001). This book won the prestigious CWA Gold Dagger Award. A skeleton is discovered half-buried in a construction site outside of Reykjavík. Inspector Erlendur finds himself knee-deep in both a crime scene and an archaeological dig. Bone by bone, the body is unearthed, and the brutalizing history of a family who lived near the building site comes to light along with it. Was the skeleton a man or a woman, a victim or a killer, and is this a simple case of murder or a long-concealed act of justice? As Erlendur tries to crack this cold case, he must also save his drug-addicted daughter from self destruction and somehow glue his hopelessly fractured family back together.
Voices (Röddin – 2003). The Christmas rush is at its peak in a grand Reykjavík hotel when Inspector Erlendur arrives to investigate a murder. Someone has stabbed the hotel Santa to death, and Erlendur and his fellow detectives find no shortage of suspects between the hotel staff and the international travelers staying for the holidays. As Christmas Day approaches, Erlendur must deal with his difficult daughter, pursue a possible romantic interest, and untangle a long-buried web of malice and greed to find the murderer.
The Draining Lake (Kleifarvatn – 2004). Following an earthquake, the water level of an Icelandic lake suddenly falls, revealing a skeleton. Inspector Erlendur’s investigation takes him back to the Cold War era, when bright, left-wing students in Iceland were sent to study in the “heavenly state” of Communist East Germany. Teeming with spies and informants, though, their “heavenly state” becomes a nightmare of betrayal and murder.
Arctic Chill (Vetrarborgin – 2005). A dark-skinned young boy is found dead, frozen to the ground in a pool of his own blood. The boy’s Thai half-brother is missing; is he implicated, or simply afraid for his own life? There are fears increase that the murder could have been racially motivated. Then the police receives reports that some witnesses have spotted a suspected pedophile in the area. Erlendur’s investigation soon unearths the tension simmering beneath the surface of Iceland’s outwardly liberal, multi-cultural society while the murder forces him to confront the tragedy in his own past.
Hypothermia (Harðskafi – 2007). Inspector Erlunder has spent his career evading the phantoms of his past. Now he finds himself twice haunted―first, at a séance attended by the victim of a suspicious suicide, and again by the puzzle of two young people who went missing thirty years ago. There’s also the ghost of the detective’s disastrous marriage―which, despite the pleas of his drug-addled daughter, Erlendur refuses to confront. And there’s his lingering obsession with the case of his beloved younger brother. He vanished without a trace when they were boys. Erlendur can run from his ghosts for only so long, and when they finally catch up with him, he should face the devastating truth of his tormented past.
Outrage (Myrká – 2008). Haunted by personal demons, Detective Erlendur decides to take a short leave of absence. He puts his female assistant, Elínborg, in charge while he is on leave. When a disturbing case lands on her desk, Elínborg quickly finds herself in a world of violent crimes. She finds out that the murdered man is a serial rapist: She must overcome her feelings of disgust for the victim if she wants to catch his killer before he strikes again.
Black Skies (Svörtuloft – 2009). A man is making a leather mask with an iron spike fixed in the middle of his forehead. Meanwhile, a school reunion has left Inspector Erlendur’s colleague Sigurdur Óli unhappy with life in the police force. While Iceland is enjoying an economic boom, Óli’s relationship is on the rocks and soon even his position in the department is compromised. When a favor to a friend goes wrong and a woman dies before his eyes, Óli has a murder investigation on his hands.
Strange Shores (Furðustrandir – 2010). Inspector Erlendur learns of the baffling story of Matthildur, a local woman. She went missing years earlier on the night of a violent storm. Erlendur has spent his whole life searching for his brother Beggi, who went missing in a snowstorm when they were both children. As he starts to ask questions about the fateful evening when Matthildur disappeared, Erlendur also begins to suspect what may have befallen his long-lost brother.
Can Erlendur possibly solve the disappearances of Matthildur and Beggi after all these decades? Or are the forces that want him to stop investigating stronger than he is?
The Great Match (Einvígið – 2011). As of now, there is no English translation available for this book either. Indridason made a flashback in this book and introduced us to the young Erlendur. The world grandmasters of chess Bobby Fisher and Boris Spassky are going to have a match in Iceland. But a murder is discovered in a cinema after the match begins. In addition to learning about Erlendur, readers also get to know his mentor Marion Briem.
Reykjavik Nights (Reykjavíkurnætur – 2012). Erlendur is a young officer who is mostly in charge of traffic duties. He is not yet a detective. He works nights. Reykjavík’s nights are full of car crashes, robberies, fights, drinking, and sometimes an unexplained death.
One night, Erlendur finds out that a homeless man that he knows is dead. Then a young woman on her way home from a club vanishes and both cases go cold. But Erlendur’s instincts tell him that the fates of these two victims are worth pursuing.
Into Oblivion (Kamp Knox – 2014). It’s 1979. A woman swims in a remote, milky-blue lagoon. Steam rises from the water and as it clears, a body appears in the ghostly light. Miles away, a vast aircraft hangar rises behind the perimeter fence of the US military base. A man’s body falls from a high platform.
Many years before, a schoolgirl went missing. The world has forgotten her. But Erlendur has not. Here, Erlendur is a new detective. He is only starting out, but already deeply involved in his work.
Other Novels By The Author
Operation Napoleon (Napóleonsskjölin – 1999). Why is the US Army trying to secretively remove a plame from an Icelandic glacier? A young Icelandic rescue volunteer manages to contact his sister Kristen before disappearing off the face of the earth. Kristin, who will not rest until she discovers the truth of her brother’s fate, soon is in great danger herself: The sort of danger which will lead her on a long journey in search of the key to the riddle about Operation Napoleon.
Flashback to 1945, when a German bomber flies over Iceland in a blizzard. The crew have lost their way and crash on a glacier. Puzzlingly, there are both Germand and American officers on board. One of the senior German officers claims that their best chance of survival is to try to walk to the nearest farm and sets off, a briefcase handcuffed to his wrist, only to disappear into the white vastness.
Bettý, 2003. As of now, this novel remains untranslated.
The King’s Book (Konungsbók – 2006). Similarly, this is an untranslated book.
The Shadow District (Skuggasund – 2013). This book is planned for release on November 2017. The Past: In wartime Reykjavik, someone strangles a young woman behind the National Theater. The crime has occurred in a rough and dangerous area of the city known as `the shadow district’. An Icelandic detective and a member of the American military police are on the trail of a brutal killer.
The Present: Someone has murdered a 90-year-old man on his bed, and with his own pillow. Konrad, a former detective now bored with retirement, finds newspaper cuttings in the dead man’s home reporting the shadow district murder that date back to the second world war. It’s a crime that Konrad remembers, having grown up in the same neighborhood.
Why, after all this time, would an old crime resurface? Did the police arrest the wrong man? Will Konrad’s link to the past help him solve the case?
German House (Þýska húsið – 2015). The English translation of this title is still not available.
Arnaldur Indridason Movies
As far as the movie records in IMDB are concerned, the Icelandic author has been credited as a writer in three movies. Jar City was turned into a movie in 2006 by director Baltasar Kormákur. This faithful adaptation of the Indridason novel also presents a gloomy, cold, and virtually lifeless image of Iceland.
Reykjavik-Rotterdam (2008), directed by Óskar Jónasson, is based on an screenplay written by Indridason and the director himself and is the tale of a security guard whose financial issues tempt him to return to his smuggling ways.
And finally, Contraband (2012) which features performance of star actors such as Mark Wahlberg is the story of a former smuggler who heads to Panama to score millions of dollars in counterfeit bills. His motive is straightforward: He needs to protect his brother-in-law from a drug lord.
Photo Credit: City Magazine