Thomas Dunne Books/ St. Martin Minotaur, 2004
Erlendur book 3 (first to be translated into English)
I picked up Jar City because I keep seeing Indridason’s name on award shortlists and, frankly, because I’m on a mission to read crime novels from as many countries as possible. Starting early in a series has its drawbacks: some early books are more uneven than later ones, but I was very pleased with this book.
Jar City centers on Inspectur Erlendur’s investigation into the braining-by-ashtray death of Holberg, an older man with a horrid past. It’s difficult to care about such an unsympathetic murder victim, but Indridason makes it work because he shows the long-ranging effects of Holberg’s actions.
Another way Indridason gets the reader to care about the murder of a pretty horrid man is to make his hero so sympathetic. Erlendur sounds like a typical police procedural hero: fiftyish, divorced, difficult relationship with his adult children, a loner, and plagued by health problems. Thankfully he is aware of his potential for burnout. While Erlendur has a rocky relationship with his drug addicted and newly pregnant daughter Eva Lind, it’s refreshing that he’s aware of his shortcomings in his dealings with her. Also, the funniest personal bit about Erlendur in the book is that he likes to read about “ordeals and fatalities in the wilderness,” in his spare time.
Indridason’s book feels brisk because none of the scenes are too long. While it’s not a thrill-a-minute book, Jar City doles out its revelations at a steady pace. Also, the nature of the investigation, particularly the forensic evidence, is interesting because it’s not typically the type of investigation I read about.
Finally, a note on the tone of the book. Finding out what a jar city is was pretty horrifying, and I feel like the book as a whole worked on the same principle. Yes, a murder is a horrible crime, but what is more horrible is finding out who the victim was and what led the murderer to kill him.