"Arctic Chill" -- a book review

Arctic Chill Arctic Chill by Arnaldur Indriðason

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is not a whodunit. In fact, so far as detective novels go, I don't know what this one is. The detective work is performed by a trio of people whom the author is firmly convinced we have previously been acquainted to (I only discovered that one of them was a female after a good few pages).

I don't know whether they call themselves by their first or last names, because everyone else (in official, private or intimate capacities) call them the same names. The book doesn't explain.

If I remember correctly, the main translator died half-way through the book and his work was carried on by someone else. If that's true, it's visible. The first more-than-half is like a children's English textbook, while the last part is a little more humanized -- people finally start having personalities and expressing themselves differently, which is very refreshing.

The main detective's job seems to be driving around asking people repetitive questions and telling everyone that the police don't think anything. By this they mean that they have no murder suspect, but the double entendre is all too evident and the translator(s) might have chosen a different English idiom.

Other than that, there's no detective work involved in this novel other. No guesswork, no clues to be followed, no interpretation of a dark spot on a man's shoe. Det. Erlendur is no Poirot. He's angry on everybody, including people he never met, and it's no surprise that it's that anger that finally helps him find the killer. (After all, if a hammer is all you have, that's what you use, right?)

But don't hope to figure out the killer before Erlendur, because it's pulled out from a hat in the last quarter of the book. There are however a few surprising twists that the level, stripped-down tone of the book will trick you into overlooking. There are even some characters sneaked in only to distract you.

The author was a journalist and that prose style is all too evident. The book is a distant, flatline, no-nonsense account of facts in which the only emotions are frustration and anger, to the point where the reader can't always understand why is everyone so pissed off at everyone else. Nobody is ever happy or even, at least, relieved. Another author might have coupled this tone with a gripping story-telling pace to make a "proper" thriller, but Indriðason pushes on relentlessly at Arctic Snail speed until, in the last few tens of pages, he finally goes into second gear and upgrades to an enjoyable police story.

I completely understand that he aimed to set a dark, chilling tone for his novel, but that is a thin edge to walk on, and I distinctly felt that a few times he slipped off into being simply boring. However, as I said, the novel does seem to find itself towards the end, so all in all it makes for a decent read.

Read "Arctic Chill" if all you ever heard about Iceland was "Lazy Town" and tourist honeypots. It's guaranteed to give you another perspective.

In a country like Iceland, where a criminal can hardly hide anywhere for long, I suppose the novel makes absolute sense. It would be hilariously improbable if set in the United States, but in Iceland -- where, I suppose, all crimes could be solved by putting everyone through the polygraph every few months -- "Arctic Chill" seems to work.

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The AppStore Odyssey

Note: if you don't care about computers this will be mighty boring.

I installed a little app on my iMac from the Apple Store and I wanted it on my Macbook too. Simple, right?

So I open AppStore on the lappie, find the app and click on the FREE download.

But. Even though the app was free, Apple wants my credit card verification number, and I don't have it with me in bed. Solution: log on remotely to my iMac, zip the application, bring it over to the laptop, have fun. Simple, right?

But. My iMac is asleep across the street. I need to wake it up first. Simple, right? Just ssh to my linux server on its public interface and run etherwake, as it's in the same LAN as my iMac.

But. I don't remember the iMac's ethernet address and the last etherwake command is long out of bash_history. How do I find my iMac's MAC? I remember it's ARP-bound in the router, so all I have to do is log in to the router, go to the static IP table and copy it from there. Simple, right?

But. I can't remember the router admin password. It's on a post-it on my desk (our office is not open for public). Finally this problem has a simple solution: my Chrome browser syncs with the iMac's Chrome and the saved passwords are accessible on the laptop even though I've never logged in to the router from it. I open KeyChain, look around and here's the password.

But. The linux box only has text-based browsers. Nostalgic about the late 1990s, I fire up lynx.

But. The web interface uses frames. Lynx is useless. I take 15 minutes to read man elinkskeys. That is one useful piece of software. I open the web interface in elinks and it looks fine.

But. The navigation menu isn't HTML, it's generated on the fly from Javascript. And elinks, of course, doesn't know Javascript. That's ok, because I do. So I use wget to download the JS file and start executing it in my head.

But. The Javascript is intentionally obfuscated. This is better than Sudoku. Finally I figure out how the link to the ARP binding page is composed and I write it down. I use wget again to go straight to it.

But. The HTML table in it is empty; again it's populated dynamically using JS. I sigh, download another JS file, and interpret it mentally. I find the MAC addresses in a tucked away array, and YES! Here's the one for my iMac.

So I fire etherwake and I mentally hear my two external drives puffing to life in the darkness of the office. Quickly I ssh to the iMac and tar-gzip the app in /Applications. Then I scp it to the linux box, and then again to my laptop. One double-click and it's ready to run!

But. When I start the copied app, OSX says it's malformed or incomplete and won't run it. Poor. I ssh back to the iMac and have a look in the Info.plist of the app and find its registered domain. A "defaults read" command gives me a lot of saved preferences, I figure maybe that's what's missing.

But. There's quite a bit of saved data there, copy/paste will take forever, so I write a little script to change the output of defaults read into an input for defaults write, which I run on my laptop. Voilá: the preferences are identical now.

But. The application still won't start. I run Disk Utility and fix disk permissions. Still nothing. "Let me Google that for you" comes to mind and 10 minutes of searching reveal exactly nothing.

But. I remember I have logs. I quickly tail the most recently changed ones. Nothing there either. As a last resort, I try to fire it up using "open" and I get a different error message: binary file not found. Hmmm.

I go to the MacOS directory in the application and the binary is there, all executable and everything. But its filename is different from the name of the application. Looks like tar hates UTF-8 filenames.

Renaming the binary file was the last piece of the puzzle. The app is finally working!

Would've been easier to just get my fat arse off the bed and find the credit card, you say?