JAR CITY by Arnuldur Indriðason

This week’s much loved crime novel is shared by Keishon whose home on the web is Yet Another Crime Fiction Blog where she discusses an eclectic mix of crime writers from early American writers to modern Scandinavians and Irish stalwarts.

Jar City1JAR CITY (aka TAINTED BLOOD in the US) is written by Arnaldur Indriðason and translated from the Icelandic by Bernard Scudder. JAR CITY is the first translated book in the series featuring Reykjavik detective Erlendur. Note on Icelandic names: according to the author, people address each other by their first names only and address very few with surnames.

This crime fiction novel is a well thought out and well written police procedural that exemplifies why I love Scandinavian crime fiction so much. From beginning to end the story had one plot twist after another to keep you turning the pages. The novel begins with Detective Erlendur investigating the murder of a 69 year old lorry driver named Holberg. He’s been found dead in his basement flat, hit over the head with an ashtray. Next to his body lies a cryptic note and in his personal effects is a picture of a young girl’s grave.

Jar City2Turns out the little girl died of a rare brain tumor. This piece of information leads Erlendur to the girl’s doctor. The doctor tells Erlendur about Jar City. It’s a storage facility where organs are collected from hospitals and kept in glass jars. But the place is now disbanded. The rest of the book has Erlendur and his team tearing up Holberg’s past to find a murder suspect with a possible genetic link. That’s the basic premise. So how did I enjoy this author and his book?

JAR CITY is a well written mystery led by an interesting protagonist. I liked Erlendur. He’s a fifty something, divorced father of two grown children. He’s also a seasoned detective who chain smokes. He has an embattled relationship with his daughter Eva Lind who flits in and out of Erlendur’s life. She’s a drug addict. Eventually the two find some middle ground with Eva Lind acting as Erlendur’s sounding board as he struggles with a case that seems to give him bad dreams at night.

What I enjoyed about JAR CITY was the tight plotting and the atmosphere of the story and of course the setting. The mood or tone is one that is bleak with the weather constantly always dark clouds and rain. There is a bit of black humor in the story to lighten up the mood as only one can when dealing with murder investigations. I liked that the villain was not a serial killer. The crime in here is instigated by rage and is well written. It’s not the usual mindless violence that you find in other mediocre crime fiction novels. This is just a smartly written crime fiction novel.

Overall, JAR CITY is a satisfactory read that delivered. If you enjoy police procedurals featuring a brooding detective with a great supporting cast and are a fan of exotic settings, then I highly recommend this author to you. My grade is a B+. Happy reading to you.

Book Details:

author: Arnaldur Indriðason (learn more at euro crime, wikipedia)
original language: Icelandic
translator: Bernard Scudder
publication date (UK): 2004

Contributor Details:

Keishon reviews and discussed the work of an eclectic mix of authors and includes Åsa Larsson, Daniel Woodrell and Jo Nesbo among her favourite writers. She is one of the people who prompted me to try, and subsequently fall in love with, the writing of Ken Bruen.

Have you shared your favourite crime novel yet?

Over the past four months crime fiction lovers have shared their favourite crime novels here at Petrona Remembered in honour of Maxine Clarke, a passionate crime fiction fan and promoter of great conversation about the genre who passed away late last year.

Some people love classics like

  • Ian Fleming‘s CASINO ROYALE which Ayo Onatade described as “…an edge of your seat quest combined with sex and intrigue…there is also a sense of indulgence and excitement all the way through the book
  • Nicolas Freeling‘s LOVE IN AMSTERDAM which Ann Cleeves sums up as “…short, intense and compelling”,
  • Francis IslesMALICE AFORETHOUGHT which, as Martin Edwards points out, has one of the best openings you could hope to read

It was not until several weeks after he had decided to murder his wife that Dr. Bickleigh took active steps in the matter. Murder is a serious business. The slightest step may be disastrous. Dr. Bickleigh had no intention of risking disaster.

Others have found recently released novels which have already left a mark including

  • Nicci French‘s THE MEMORY GAME about which blogger Suzi said “It wasn’t the best crime fiction book I’d ever read but the characters really came alive…these protagonists were like me! Well not exactly like me because I’ve never been caught in the middle of a psychological thriller, but it COULD be me”
  • Alison Gordon‘s PRAIRIE HARDBALL which Bill Selnes loves because it is the best mystery set in his home province of Saskatchewan
  • Mari Strachan‘s THE EARTH HUMS IN B FLAT which Laura Root describes as “a touching, atmospheric novel…that neatly conveys the claustrophobic atmosphere of a small Welsh village…it defies simple categorisation, touching on mystery, madness, growing up, and the lies and ties that bind”.

Others still have fallen in love with some of the translated crime novels of the kind that Maxine was such a staunch supporter of including

  • Asa Larsson‘s UNTIL THY WRATH BE PAST which Barbara Fister thinks shows the author “really hitting her stride…she has given us a cast of characters we have come to know and care about, a setting that is vivid, a ghostly young woman who has a grounded, earthy reality, and a compelling story that explores Sweden’s troubling relationship with Nazi Germany“,
  • Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom‘s THE BEAST which Ali Karim took personally as he shows when sharing “what The Beast did was challenge my bleeding-heart-liberal values system. It made me think about the question: What would I be capable of doing, should a predatory pedophile commit the unthinkable act of murdering my offspring?”

So many great novels shared so far but we’ve plenty of room for more. Why not email us a post, a poem, a love letter, a video about a crime novel you love and want others to find too.

DON’T LOOK BACK by Karin Fossum

This week’s much loved crime novel is, fittingly, a European favourite from Karen Meek the founder of Euro Crime: a site for fans and would-be fans of British and European crime fiction.

The UK paperback cover (2003 edition)

The UK paperback cover (2003 edition)

Karin Fossum’s DON’T LOOK BACK was first published in English in 2002, translated by Felicity David, and despite many recommendations it was four years before I got round to it. Only then did I realise what I was missing.

DON’T LOOK BACK is the second in the Inspector Sejer series but the first to be translated, the first book, IN THE DARKNESS, was only translated and published last year (2012). DON’T LOOK BACK is an absorbing whodunnit with an “exotic” (at the time) small town Norwegian setting and introduces the widowed and very tall Konrad Sejer and his sidekick, the younger Jacob Skarre.

Fossum throws the reader off, both at the beginning and the end of the book as it at first seems that a very young girl has gone missing and is in great danger but in fact that is not the case. Several of my reading group had to be reassured that the plot was going somewhere different before carrying, on as child murder even in fiction is still a taboo. And the ending contains some ambiguity – which turns out, after reading more of her books, to be somewhat of a Fossum trademark.

A US hardcover edition

A US hardcover edition

DON’T LOOK BACK is the most traditional police procedural of Fossum’s Sejer books with later books delving more into the psychology of people, and crimes where ordinary people commit a crime or have an accident which leads to a cover-up and the truth must be revealed.

I thoroughly recommend this series, especially the earlier books if you are more into plots and the later books if you like character and the whys of people’s behaviour.

Maxine was a huge fan too. From her reviews for Euro Crime:

  • CALLING OUT FOR YOU: “One of the best crime novels of its year, undoubtedly.”
  • THE WATER’S EDGE “This is a wonderful book, short and haunting, and beautifully naturally translated. If you read it, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.”
  • BLACK SECONDS: “Fossum seems to write two different kinds of novels: sensitive procedurals focusing on simple, everyday-crimes crimes (such as DON’T LOOK BACK and CALLING OUT FOR YOU), and psychological thrillers based on original and twisted conceits (like WHEN THE DEVIL HOLDS THE CANDLE). BLACK SECONDS is of the former type. It deals with a simple, unflashy crime, one that could (and does) happen anywhere. This sad simplicity adds to the strange power of her novels, with their achingly realistic crimes, and their achingly realistic victims, their relatives and neighbours.”

I hope that if you haven’t given Karin Fossum a try already, you’ll do so now.

This review was first published at Euro Crime in March 2007 (reproduced with the permission of the site owner)

Book Details:

author: Karin Fossum (learn more at wikipedia)
original language: Norwegian
translator: Felicity David
publication date (UK): 2002

Contributor Details:

Karen Meek is a librarian, started the Euro Crime website ten years ago, has been a judge for the CWA International Dagger award for several years and in her spare time blogs about YA fiction. At Euro Crime you’ll find reviews, author bios and just about anything else you could need to know about crime fiction set in Europe or by European authors.,

THE MEMORY GAME by Nicci French

This week’s much loved crime novel is submitted by Suzigun who blogs at Novel Heights and prefers to read murder mysteries and thrillers on her daily commute to London. 

the memory game nicci frenchThere aren’t many author’s whose first book I can vividly remember buying but Nicci French’s THE MEMORY GAME is one that really stands out. It was 1997 and I was in the process of being made redundant and had been sent to London for some “counselling” on finding another job. After the meeting I mooched along Victoria Street and couldn’t resist a wander into what I think was a Books Etc at the time. Browsing the hardback section I couldn’t resist this book (despite knowing that my funds were about to become limited). A black and silver dust jacket with a square cut-out in the centre through which you could see the image of a memorial angel in a graveyard…OK, perhaps you had to be there! But I bought the book on the strength of that beautiful cover and I didn’t regret it.

It wasn’t the best crime fiction book I’d ever read but the characters really came alive. I had no idea that this was written by two authors (husband and wife Nicci Gerrard and Sean French) rather than one, and it was some time before I found that out. The writing gave no hint of this or that it was a first novel. I enjoyed the book enough that I kept buying their titles as they were published, and what came later was a revelation. These protagonists were like me! Well not exactly like me because I’ve never been caught in the middle of a psychological thriller, but it COULD be me. The main character would be a woman, perhaps my age or a little younger and they would be normal and live the kind of life I did. Having been brought up on Christie and Sayers and American cops and lawyers this was a real eye-opener.

I bought and read and cherished each title, and yes some were better than others, but they all gripped me and swept me along with the action.

Then there was an announcement that the writers were moving away from standalone books and embarking on an eight book series. I felt hugely disappointed. Part of the joy of the books was the new characters each time; after all it would have stretched credibility too far for the characters to be caught in more than one deadly situation! So Blue Monday was published in 2011 and it’s several jobs later and in my spare time I’m reviewing and blogging about books. The main character is Frieda Klein, a psychotherapist living in London. She’s more an enigmatic than engaging character and I enjoyed the book but wasn’t blown away by it. So “Monday” was followed by “Tuesday’s Gone” and the authors managed to surprise me again. They really knew what they were doing and all those gripes I had were swept away because it was all part of a bigger picture. Yes Frieda is older, but it seems I am too – how did I not spot that! All of which made me feel foolish for my earlier disappointment – I should have trusted these people more.

So to bring this back to Maxine, I found her comments on Petrona echoed my feelings. She made some lovely comments about my review of Tuesday’s Gone, and we were both looking forward to reading “Wednesday” which has just been released. Which is sad, because when I read it I wanted to know what she thought of it too. So all I can do is say that I read it and thought of her, as I will the rest of the series and much other crime fiction.

Book Details:

author:  Nicci French (learn more at their website)
original language: English
publication date (UK): 1997

Contributor Details:

Suzigun has been blogging at Novel Heights since December 2010 and is still loving the Nicci French books, as evidenced by her recent review of their most recent release WAITING FOR WEDNESDAY