"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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