The weaker book is Voices, and I believe its weakness stems from its reliance to a greater extent than Arnaldur's other books on melodrama. More than usual as well for Arnaldur, the action, the pivotal events especially, happens indoors.
The site is a Reykjavik hotel where an employee has been found murdered and where Inspector Erlendur Sveinsson stays for the course of the investigation because he does not feel like going home. The employee is an ex-hotel doorman and holiday Santa and a former child star with a number of financial, personal and family entanglements.
In The Draining Lake, Silence of the Grave and Arctic Chill, bodies are found outdoors. In the first two, especially, this reinforces the intimate connection with Iceland and its soil that is the most distinctive feature of the Erlendur books. In Voices, everything happens inside, and the melodrama has to carry the book. This melodrama is sharper, sadder and more affecting than most, but I miss the connection with the land.
The connection promises to be present in Silence of the Grave, second of the five Erlendur novels and winner of the Crime Writers' Association Gold Dagger in 2005. As in the superb Draining Lake, Iceland's soil yields up the body that sets the story in motion. Here, its discovery is odder and funnier:
"He knew at once it was a human bone, when he took it from the baby who was sitting on the floor chewing it."
On the other hand, Iceland is a small, historically homogeneous society. Perhaps it's no surprise that traditional names are especially prevalent. The names Arnaldur gives his characters may be no more significant than those of fictional characters such as Hieronymus Bosch or Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg.
© Peter Rozovsky 2009