Ali Karim is a Board Member of Bouchercon [The World Crime & Mystery Convention] and co-chaired programming for Bouchercon Raleigh, North Carolina in 2015. He is Assistant Editor of Shots eZine, British correspondent for The Rap Sheet and writes and reviews for many US magazines & Ezines.
Probably the greatest contemporary police procedurals are Arnaldur Indriðason’s novels set in Iceland, featuring the ‘Reykjavik detectives’. It makes one just weep at the power of empathy that Indriðason laces these excursions into the dark side of human nature. Despite the sad and premature passing of Indriðason’s long time translator, the poet Bernard Scudder, the new translator Anna Yates has mastered the ability to bring to life Indriðason’s dark imagination. ‘Outrage’ is the seventh of the series to be translated into English and marks a change of pace, following the publication / translation of the 1999’s standalone ‘Operation Napoleon’ last year.
Following Detective Erlendur’s journey [into the past] to uncover what happened to his brother in ‘Hypothermia’, we have an investigation headed by his assistant Elinborg, and added by Sigurdur Oli as Erlendur remains absent and lost in his past. At first, this is a daunting prospect as we’ve come to warm to the melancholic detective Erlendur’s introspective and dogged determination in peeling away a case.
I have to credit Indriðason [and Yates] in crafting a truly memorable excursion into the dark side of friendships and alienation that forms the spine of ‘Outrage’. What appears initially as a simple case of the revenge-murder of a rapist [drugged with the date-rape drug Rohypnol] is far more complex, and Erlendur’s determination has rubbed off onto Elinborg as she delves beneath the surface to discover something far more complex. As Erlendur is absent [apart from one minor mention], we now have space to delve beneath both Elinborg’s and Sigurdor Oli’s private lives, showing how their chosen employment bleeds into their lives and the consequences of what it means to be a detective, always pursing the dark motivations of human nature.
The case will take the Reykjavik detectives into the past, and explore the effect of crimes such as ‘date rape’ on not only the victim’s families but also that of the rapist’s family and freinds, and leave the detectives a moral dilemma, and one that is shared with the reader. Like all of Indriðason’s work there are a plethora of clues, red-herrings and tracks in the snow - like the soiled shawl with a hint of Indian spices, the rapist’s profession as an IT engineer, and the pain of the victims - but it is not these that set these tales head-and-shoulders above all other police procedurals.
It is the way Indriðason conveys empathy with the use of language that makes them an existential and cerebral read. There is one scene, only a couple of paragraphs in length that will burn itself into the mind. It involves the case of a car that is hit by a truck in what was reported as a tragic accident; one that killed the car-driver. Elinborg however soon uncovers something far more sinister; and morally troubling when she tracks down the truck-driver [Ragnar Thor] who gave up his profession following the incident. He tells Elinborg chillingly –
“If I tell you what I left out of my statement, you mustn’t tell anyone else.”
“I won’t. You can rely on me.”
Ragnar Thor finished filling the car. They stood by the pump. It was midday, a chilly day. “It was suicide,” said Ragnar Thor.
“Suicide? How do you know?”
“You can’t breathe a word of this.”
“He smiled at me.”
Ragnar Thor nodded. “He was smiling when the lorry hit him. He picked me out – my rig, because it was a big juggernaut with a trailer. He pulled over right in front of me, no warning. There was nothing I could do. I had no time to react. He steered his car head-on into me and just before the vehicles collided he smiled – from ear to ear.”
As perplexing as that extract is in painting a picture in your mind, when you understand the context, then you will truly understand how much of an ‘event’ is the appearance of one of Arnaldur Indriðason’s novels into English, and why his work has such insight into the hidden recesses of what we term ‘the human condition’. Simple spoken, the best, of the best.