Jar City by Arnaldur Indridason

Jar City by Arnaldur Indridason

Arnaldur Indridason's Jar City: A Reykjavik Thriller, the first of a series starring Inspector Erlendur, is a gripping crime novel set in the insular world of Reykjavik, Iceland, where the climate is unforgiving and murder is a relatively rare phenomenon. 

An elderly man, Holberg, is found murdered in his city flat, and, unlike most murders in Iceland that are crimes of passion, Erlendur and his colleagues Sigrinudur Oli and Elinborg quickly realize that this is not going to be a typical murder investigation, especially since the only clues are a cryptic note stating, “I am HIM” and the photograph of a young girl’s grave.

The clues intentionally left by the killer lead the inspector to a cold case that Holberg was accused but never convicted of, and Erlendur’s instincts tell him that investigating the cold case will help him to crack this unusual murder.  Coming up against forgetful and at times hostile witnesses and the sexist police officer who first caught the rape case gone cold that Erlendur is trying to solve does little to help him and his colleagues unravel the mysteries that are beginning to surround them and pull them in different directions.  Seemingly unrelated rapes, murders, paternity questions, and missing persons past and present broaden and become intertwined to create a complex story worthy of the 2002 Nordic Crime Novel Award.

Fans of Henning Mankell and other Nordic crime writers will certainly enjoy this well-paced and well-plotted series set in the harsh environment of Iceland.  Arnaldur does an excellent job using the traits unique to Iceland, including the hours of seemingly endless night and the isolation of living on a cold and forbidding island, to create a truly one-of-a-kind police procedural.

One thing to note before embarking on this fantastic series is that naming conventions in Iceland are very different than in the United States.  Last names in Iceland are patronymic and sometimes matronymic, meaning that they are derived from the immediate father or mother’s name rather than from a family name that is passed down through the generations.  For example, Arnaldur Indridason’s (spelled Indriðason in Icelandic) last name is derived from his father, Indriði; therefore, his last name means son of Indriði.  Due to Iceland having such a small population with a high number of common last names, Icelanders are referred to by their first name rather than their last (thus the author’s books are found in the library under ARN instead of IND).  For more information on Icelandic surnames from the Icelandic Ministry of the Interior, please see: http://eng.innanrikisraduneyti.is/information/nr/125.