Jar City is the second book in the Inspector Erlendur series (but the first with the inspector translated into English), that I’ve read as part of what’s swiftly turning into a Nordic noir/crime word-feast.
Set in Reykjavik, Iceland, the inspector is a 50-year-old, rather dour, no-nonsense person, divorced from his wife who cannot stand him and has done all in her power to ensure he has little to no relationship with his two now-adult children. In this book, his daughter, Eva Lind, a pregnant drug-addict, turns to her father for help but, in doing so, finds she receives as much as she gives. It’s in the scenes with his daughter that gentler but also contradictory aspects of the inspector’s personality (and past) are revealed.
Just as the personal life of the protagonist is exposed through hints, brief interior monologues and flashbacks (mainly through memory) of the past, likewise, the solution to the major crime being investigated, the murder of an old man in his apartment, seems to lie in actions taken decades earlier. Actions that while they held no consequences (at the time) for the criminal, resonated well beyond for the victims, affecting many lives, curtailing bright futures.
Bleak, like the last book in this series I read, the grey landscapes, constant rain and chill form a steady backdrop to the investigation. The pace is steady, unfurling almost reluctantly, but keeping the reader gripped at all times. Rape, genetic diseases, secrets, lies, bureaucracy, abuse of power, the ambiguous push and pull of family, terrible brutality and arrogance all feature in this book. The characters are all so well drawn, complex, flawed and yet relatable. Motivations are apparent, people’s guilt and desires clear.
Despite the fact barely anyone is willing to aid the investigation, preferring to keep knowledge to themselves, leave dark secrets buried, or choosing to be laconic when questioned, thwarting the inspector and his partner’s efforts, suspense builds until the perpetrator is revealed, past and present collide and dreadful inevitability rears its head.
A clever, well-written book that anyone who enjoys a good crime novel, with an intricate plot and characters that ring true will thoroughly appreciate.