Have Arnaldur Indidrason and his translator Bernard Scudder become the Mozart and Da Ponte, or Rodgers and Hammerstein, of crime fiction?
Well with The Draining Lake the latest in the Reyjavik Murder Mystery series they have attained a new level with a gripping story that succeeds on so many levels.
The plot is not new and could well be classified as derivative, but then so are Verdi's Otello or Puccini's Butterfly. You can tell I am in a musical mood today.
The Draining Lake is a police procedural, woven together with a love story, interlinked with a spy story and all constructed with subtlety, humour and a deep understanding of human emotions.
The water level in an Icelandic lake, Kleifarvatn, falls to reveal a skeleton weighted down by a radio device with Russian markings. Erlendur, Sigurdur Oli and Elinborg begin an investigation to discover the identity of the skeleton. Erlendur is particularly interested in one of the missing persons from the 1970s called Lepold who disappeared leaving his girlfriend Asta abandoned, and his Ford Falcon car outside the coach station.
Part of the pleasure of reading the Indidrason stories is that we learn so much about the lives of the detectives, and their everyday problems. Sigurdur Oli and his partner Bergthora are trying to conceive a child. Elinborg's cookery book is being published and she is worried about the reviews. Erlendur is continuing to have problems with Eva Lind, his drug addicted daughter, and is trying to form some kind of understanding with his son Sindri Snaer.He is also hoping that his budding friendship with Valgerdur develops further and becomes a romance.
Erlendur's situation is almost a treatise on the damage caused by family breakdown.
The back story tells the story of left wing idealistic Icelandic students sent to study at Karl Marx University in Leipzig in the years before the Hungarian uprising of 1956. The East German state was a brutal dictatorship masquerading under the guise of socialism, and the story captures brilliantly the atmosphere of fear and suspicion among the students. As some of the students become more and more disillusioned Tomas and Ilona fall in love and as their romance proceeds they are watched by the Stasi and their agents.
The book is full of believable minor characters such as the extremely grumpy old farmer Haraldur.
"I think Lepold came to visit you," Erlendur repeated without answering Haraldur."Bollocks.".................Haraldur raised his head and stared at him from beneath his bushy eyebrows. "Get out," he said. "I never want to see you here again."And the pompous German Ambassador, Frau Doktor Elsa Muller."I know you'll find it amusingly absurd," she said," but in terms of the diplomatic service, Iceland is the back end of the world......"Iceland may well be the back end of the world but Indidrason and Scudder have brought it to the forefront of the crime fiction genre.The Draining Lake is definitely one of the best crime books I have read this year.