The fifth book in the Inspector Erlendur series, Voices, is the second book featuring this rather glum but fascinating detective I’ve read and won’t be the last. The setting for this novel is an ostentatious Reykjavik hotel at Christmas time. Instead of being a joyous occasion, the planned festivities for the hotel guests, staff and children turn decidedly sour when the hotel’s Santa, Gulli, a rather simple but dedicated employee who was about to be sacked, is found naked and dead and in a very compromising position.
Enter Inspector Erlendur who, while investigating the murder, decides to book a cheerless room in the hotel rather than spend what remains of the season in his own house. What follows as peculiar guests are interviewed, Gulli’s colleagues, bosses and his dysfunctional family, is not for the feint of heart. So much for Christmas cheer. Ho bloody ho is what unfolds as the spirit of Christmas, juxtaposed as it is against the investigation and Erlendur’s attempts to improve his sorry personal life (which feature an ex-wife, drug-addicted daughter and son who all hate him), flails under the weight of what’s uncovered: a bizarre and creepy record collector, a cold, officious estranged family, corrupt hotel staff, and conflicting tales of just who and what Gulli was – and before he ever came to work and live in the hotel. Deception, brutality, searing malice and prejudice all rear their ugly heads and at a time of year when we so want to wish joy to the world. It’s a very clever setting of polar opposites, exposing and enhancing the awfulness of the crime and the facades families and people generally erect; how desperately we all want to at least appear happy. But when you can’t even do that at Christmas, what’s the point?
For those looking for a thoroughly gripping, page-turning read where the characters crackle and spit and the plot thickens, this is the book. But it’s not a fast read – everything simmers slowly, coming to boil towards the end when the twists come faster than Santa’s sleigh. Atmospheric and acerbic.