I wrote that the novel's constricted setting (almost all the action happens inside a Reykjavik hotel) de-emphasizes the connection with Iceland and its soil that is usual in Arnaldur's books. But this does not preclude his customary wry observations about his country and, given the hotel setting, about its visitors,
"Tourists who were planning to spend Christmas and the New Year in Iceland because it seemed to them like an adventurous and exciting country. Although they had only just landed, many had apparently already bought traditional Icelandic sweaters, and they checked into the exotic land of winter."
There is Erlendur's spare, pointed retort to a hotel manager more concerned about business than about justice:
"I hope you're not disturbing my guests," he said.
Erlendur took him to one side.
"What are the rules about prostitution in this hotel?"
And there is Arnaldur's delightful deadpan slapstick. Here, Erlendur's investigation has him interviewing a prostitute whose stitches from her recent eye-catching breast-enhancement surgery are bothering her. The manager sees Erlendur and the woman, misinterprets their meeting, and tries to throw the woman out:
"Watch her tits!" Erlendur shouted, not knowing what else to say. The hotel manager looked at him, dumbfounded. "They're new," Erlendur added by way of explanation.
One reader complained here that the victim in Voices was especially pathetic and therefore less interesting. I think this is due to Arnaldur's narrow focus on the victim. Furthermore, he also focuses in more detail than usual on Erlendur, and the two characters form a pair of solitary bookends.
I respect Arnaldur for choosing bravely to turn his back on interaction, the stuff of which most novels are made, and concentrate so heavily on the victim's and Erlendur's parallel inner lives. I just don't think it works as well as his other novels do. It will be interesting to see if he tries this strategy in the future.
© Peter Rozovsky 2009