Monday, August 23, 2010

Brain in a jar

A few days after grandly announcing my retirement from Scandi crime and here I am again, reading Arnaldur Indriðason's Hypothermia and watching Jar City, a movie adaptation of one of his early books.

Indriðason is definitely up there when it comes to utter bleakness. His books revolve around detective Erlandur, from Reykjavik, who is just an incredibly sad sack: divorced with two dysfunctional grown children, and a seeming inability to ever enjoy himself. Mostly this goes back to a youthful trauma: Erlandur's brother disappeared in a snow blizzard and never resurfaced. All of Indriðason's book involve flashbacks, and the key to the mystery always lays in history.

This makes sense for Iceland-set novels, since the country seems to have an intense relationship with its history and itself, as illustrated by the project in which the entire population's DNA is recorded in a database. Jar City is a good illustration of Indriðason's m.o. — the database plays a big role and the action hinges on 30-year-old events — plus the movie offers an excellent visual adaptation of the books' very specific mood. Typical is a scene in which Erlendur stops by a fast-food place and orders sheep's head from the drive-through window. Then we see him eating his take-out back home, on the 16th floor of a grim high rise. He absent-mindedly extracts an eyeball and munches on it, then breaks the sheep's skull in two. It's a good deal, too: the meal comes with a side of mashed potatoes. Also noteworthy: Erlandur coming up to a key character while carrying a brain in a bowling bag.

Iceland being small, I haven't seen many noir novels from there. I enjoyed Árni Þórarinsson's Le Dresseur d'insectes (unavailable in English, as far as I know), because it has a sense of humor that breaks with the genre and because its hero isn't a cop or a lawyer but a journalist. As with other Nordic noir authors, he's quite popular in France, where I randomly picked up the aforementioned novel.

As I'm departing for vacation in Australia in a couple of days, I'm researching local authors so I can pick up some paperbacks while there. Shane Maloney looks intriguing, for instance, as well as Leigh Redhead (I may be influenced by her name) and Kel Robertson. Any other recommendations? (Other than Peter Temple and Garry Disher, whose work I'm already familiar with.)


Luke N. Atmaguchi said...

Larsson sent me down the Scandi crime sewer, and most stuff I’ve liked more than him. Really glad to have gone back for Sjowall and Wahloo’s “Story of Crime” series (thanks to Hollywood, I must picture Walter Matthau as Martin Beck) and deWettering’s “Amsterdam Cops” series. Also enjoy much of the contemporary: Karin Fossum, Helene Tursten, Jo Nesbo (who’s gone downhill since “The Redbreast.”) My fave Mankell is the non-Wallander “Depths.”

Indriadson I like perhaps the most among the contemporary, and I found the screen adaptation of “Jar City” note-perfect, even bettering the BBC/Branagh Wallander. (Indriadson’s Erlendur and Fossum’s Sejer may be considered Wallander descendents, but I find Erlendur’s “family troubles” more intriguing.)

I too feel near Scandi-ed out -- Camilla Lackberg, flagged in the NYTimes Larsson trend piece, turned out to be ragingly mediocre -- so maybe I’ll follow your Italy tip. A connection: Fossum’s “Don’t Look Back” was plopped down in Italy for the somewhat lost-in-translation big screen “The Girl By the Lake.”

Elisabeth Vincentelli said...

I read a couple of Helen Tursten books but I just don't like the main character, who comes across as annoyingly judgmental. But yeah, Indridason is the real thing, and the movie is note-perfect, as you say.

In Australia I started reading Shane Maloney's Stiff and got hooked immediately. More in an actual blog post.