Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Arctic Chill

Arctic Chill is my first experience with Arnaldur Indridason’s police procedurals, so I do not have the earlier novels in the series to use as a yardstick.  Arctic Chill is, in fact, the fifth of six “Reykjavik Thrillers” (if, that is, they were translated and published here in the order in which they were written) to be translated from the original Icelandic for publication in the U.S.  And I am intrigued enough by the book’s main characters, atmosphere, and attention to detail that I will be seeking others in the series.
When he sees the little Asian boy frozen to the ground in a pool of his own blood, Erlendur fears the child has been the victim of a hate crime.  What he sees, however, deeply disturbs him for an additional reason; it reminds him of his own little brother, lost to a blizzard decades earlier.  Erlendur soon discovers that the mixed-race child is the son of a Thai woman who had the courage to move to Iceland to begin a new life in her husband’s home country.  Worryingly, the woman also has an older son who has not been seen since before his younger brother’s body was found not far from the apartment they share with their now divorced mother.
Detective Erlendur and his Reykjavik police colleagues, in their effort to find the boy’s killer, begin their enquiries, naturally enough, at his school.  There, they learn of the day-to-day racism and harassment mixed-race immigrant students suffer at the hands of fellow students, and perhaps even a teacher or two.  Interview by interview, clue by clue, one discovery leading them to the next, Erlendur and his crew begin to close in on the killer.  Arctic Chill is an excellent police procedural but the book is about much more than solving one murder.
Author Arnaldur Indridason takes a hard look at what immigrants, especially those from Asia or Africa, face when they come to Iceland.  As in every country, native citizens have mixed emotions about immigration.  On the one hand, they appreciate the willingness of the immigrants to work at the low paying jobs that have to be done.  On the other, they fear that their country’s culture will be forever corrupted by people who make no effort to assimilate into the dominant society.  This is especially true in a country, like Iceland, that has a relatively small population through which to defend its cultural heritage.  As Detective Erlendur himself says at an early stage of the investigation, “This is all so new to us.  Immigrants, racial issues...we know so little about it.”
Indridason gives the reader a good feel for life in modern Iceland, a way of life still largely influenced by the demands of the country’s harsh climate.  Long, cold winters with very short days do not encourage neighbors to spend much time getting to know each other and Detective Erlendur and other characters in the book seem to have developed a rather fatalistic attitude as a result of the forced lifestyle.  
This portion of a paragraph from near the end of the book (a scene in which Erlendur stands alone over a grave in freezing weather) says it best: “There were no final answers to explain the life-long solitude of the person in the urn, or the death of his brother all those years ago, or why Erlendur was the way he was, and why Elias was stabbed to death.  Life was a random mass of unforeseeable coincidences that governed men’s fates like a storm that strikes without warning, causing injury and death.”
Arctic Chill won’t cheer you up  - and that’s the point.  This is a highly atmospheric book with a message and some characters I want to get to know better.
Rated at: 4.5

(Review Copy provided  by Publisher)
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