Indridason, Arnaldur - 'Voices' (translated by Bernard Scudder)
Arnaldur Indridason is one of the finest crime fiction writers in Europe, and his translator Bernard Scudder has done another excellent job in bringing VOICES to an English speaking readership. I had read his two earlier books TAINTED BLOOD, and SILENCE OF THE GRAVE about a year ago and had forgotten just how good Indridason was at creating memorable characters, and so brilliantly using the unique isolation of Iceland in his stories.
Of course his novels have won a bundle of prizes, Indridason being the first writer to win the prestigious Glass Key Award for the best Nordic Crime Fiction novel in successive years: in 2002 for TAINTED BLOOD (JAR CITY) and in 2003 for SILENCE OF THE GRAVE, which also won the British Crime Writer's Association Gold Dagger in 2005.
'VOICES' was published in the original Icelandic in 2003 and certainly maintains the very high standard of the earlier books. On one level it is a pure police procedural with Erlendur and his team of Sigudur Oli, and Elinborg investigating the murder of Gudlauger Egilsson a hotel doorman, and part time Santa Claus in the few days before Christmas. But on a deeper level it examines the relationships between family members, and how just a single event can change a person's life forever. Indridason shows a deep psychological insight into the problems that beset our modern societies: drug addiction, violence towards women, child abuse, and loneliness. But the book is not all darkness and despair, and does have some humour as the pretentious hotel management tries to maintain its status amid the investigation, and Erlendur in his inimitable style puts them in their place.
Gudlauger has been found stabbed to death in his basement hotel room wearing his Santa suit with his trousers round his ankles and with a condom hanging on his penis. He has lived in a pathetically small room for as long as anyone can remember, and none of the hotel staff claim they know him beyond a mere acquaintance.
A murder investigation is sometimes like peeling an onion because as the outer layers of the onion and the lives of the victim and the suspects become exposed there can be tears. Erlendur begins delving into the victim's past to explain why he has lived this sad existence for so long. In the process he finds out from one of the hotel guests, Henry Wapshott, an eccentric record collector, that once Gudlauger was a child star, a boy soprano with a wonderful singing voice.
Erlendur, a man with sad eyes that reflect both a tragic event in his own childhood, and the loneliness of his present existence, is perhaps the ideal detective to reach into Gudlauger's past to find the answers to the many questions. He investigates while coping with the problem of his own daughter Eva Lind, who is fighting the demon of drug addiction and the traumatic loss of her stillborn baby, an event caused by that addiction.
Elinborg is meanwhile dealing with a case of a badly battered young boy, and she has become perhaps too emotionally involved in securing the conviction of the boy’s father, who is insistent that he is innocent.
Why have Gudlauger's father and sister rejected him? What have the grossly overweight hotel manager, and his staff got to hide? Indridason certainly does keep you guessing right to the end as he builds up the tension in his quiet methodical way. This is yet another top quality Scandinavian crime fiction novel with a lot of accurate insights into the multiplicity of the problems of parenthood and our modern society. I am certainly looking forward to reading the next book in the series THE DRAINING LAKE, and was not surprised to discover that VOICES won the Swedish Martin Beck Award for the best translated crime fiction book in 2005.
Norman Price, England