Who is Arnaldur Indriđason?

In early August, I took a trip to Sydney, Australia, and I made it a point to visit the city’s local bookstores. (Read my article from last week about that adventure!) During my stop at Berkelouw Books, I found a novel titled The Draining Lake by Icelandic author Arnaldur Indriđason. Although I had never heard of Indriđason, I quickly read his book and discovered a great deal about Icelandic involvement in the Cold War. The Draining Lake is part of a series about Detective Erlendur Sveinsson and his team. Like most crime series, each new book introduces a new case with new possibilities. Since starting the series in 1997, Indriđason has churned out a new addition to the series almost every year.

Icelandic author Arndaldur Indriđason is author of nearly twenty books including the Detective Erlendur Sveinsson series. (Photo from http://www.crimefictionlover.com. )

Icelandic author Arnaldur Indriđason has written almost 20 books, including the Detective Erlendur Sveinsson series. (Photo from www.crimefictionlover.com.)

Arnaldur Indriđason was born in Iceland’s capital city of Reykjavík on January 28, 1961. He started his writing career as a journalist, but his educational background is in history. Indriđason’s first book in the Detective Erlendur series, Sons of Dust, was released in 1997, and there have been another 12 since. The most recent, Reykjavík Nights, came out last year.

Although not well-known in America, Indriđason’s works are quite popular in his home country. He has won several writing awards including a Glass Key, which is given to crime writers from Nordic countries. (Stieg Larsson, of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo fame, is a previous recipient of the Glass Key award.) In 2005, Indriđason won the Gold Dagger award given by the Crime Writers’ Association. He is also the 2013 winner of the RBA International Prize for Crime Writing. While Indriđason’s bestselling works are his Detective Erlendur books, he has written four other novels not associated with the detective. Of those, the most recent, Shadow Alley, won him the RBA award.

Draining Lake

As for Erlendur books, they follow the detective and his two team members, Elínborg and Sigurdur Oli, during the investigations of crimes that run the gamut from murder to espionage. In the book I read, The Draining Lake, a body is exposed in an Icelandic lake once the water recedes following an earthquake. Clearly a murder, the victim’s body has been weighed down with Russian radio equipment from the Cold War era. Even though a great deal of time has passed since the crime was committed, Erlendur is determined to bring the killer to justice.

As a central character, Erlendur is a professional, but flawed, individual. He is devoted to his work, but his connection to those who are dead is more palpable than his relationships with the living. His daughter is a drug addict whose most recent stay in a detox clinic came after she nearly killed Erlendur’s co-worker Sigurdur. Erlendur’s son is a drifter who has never felt any real closeness to his father. Plus, Erlendur’s love life is a mess. Erlendur’s only real friends are the detectives with whom he works. He trusts them implicitly, and their relationship is part of what makes the books so great.

For me, the most difficult part of reading Indriđason’s books is the hard to pronounce Icelandic names and a lack of understanding regarding Icelandic geography, but after having read Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels, I was prepared for the language/location challenge. My recommendation for anyone trying to overcome this obstacle is to realize that the names and locations do not impact one’s understanding of the plot. So, just stick it out!

A relatively unknown author for Americans, but a delight in his own country, Arnaldur Indriđason is really worth the effort. I look forward to reading his entire Detective Erlendur series and discovering more about the intricacies of Iceland. Please know that not all of the author’s books have been translated into English, but most of the ones that have were translated by Bernard Scudder and Victoria Cribb. The works may be difficult to find in bookstores, but Amazon sells them on its website.

Mollie Smith Waters

Mollie Smith Waters teaches American literature, theater, and speech at a small community college in rural Alabama. Her hobbies include reading, writing, traveling, and walking.