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frevelopfer

9 july 2011

Arnaldur Indriðason's Myrká will appear in the U.S. sooner or later as Outrage, but I got impatient about the "later" part of that prospect, so I picked up the German translation by Coletta Bürling, Frevelopfer. Once again, there's a weird, inexplicable murder in Reykjavík. The novel opens with a very CSI-like scene, where characters are going about their somewhat louche business and then we suddenly cut to lots of blood, yellow tape, and the harried detective Elínborg wondering what on earth could have caused all the carnage. The big difference from Arnaldur's previous Krimis is that Erlendur isn't around to help her.

Erlendur has in fact disappeared, and it's not really a spoiler to reveal that he doesn't surface at all in Frevelopfer. Disappearing without notice is, as several characters acknowledge, not really unlike Erlendur, so their concern is muted.

Anyway, enough about a character that doesn't appear in the book I'm reviewing. Whether Frevelopfer is a move to hand over the Reykjavík policier franchise to Elínborg, or just a one-off digression, remains to be seen. (Though I suppose people in Iceland are already seeing it; the rest of us are in suspense till Arnaldur's more recent books are translated.)

Elínborg shuttles between work and family life – and lest you complain that this feminizes her, remember that Erlendur (like his precursors Kurt Wallander and Martin Beck) made a similar shuttle. It's just that Elínborg has a fairly quiet family life, with her reliable but somewhat stereotypical husband Teddi (whose domestic contributions are limited to picking up fast food) and her mildly rebellious older son Valþór (who writes a blog about how his family doesn't understand him). Having a stable home to go to doesn't diminish Elínborg as a detective. If anything, it provides a contrast that allows her to detect when things aren't banal in the world of crime – as when a serial date-rapist suddenly finds himself at the receiving end of his own Rohypnol, drugged to sleep and very, very dead.

Frevelopfer is a quiet, methodical procedural without gunplay or car chases. Both criminals and victims (some characters are both) like things static and predictable; the book's governing motif is Rohypnol, the enforced passivity of victimization. It's a solid entry in Arnaldur's series. Some of his other novels have ventured into the rhetoric of social problems (urbanization in Todesrosen, immigration in Arctic Chill), and there's a little bit of that here: anonymous date rape is a 21st-century social problem, and Arnaldur explores it briefly and sharply. But most of the novel is a true mystery, a baffling set of contingencies from which Elínborg must sort out the real motives from the apparent. We read detective novels for the possibility they hold out of doing just that in this crazy world.

Arnaldur Indriðason. Frevelopfer. [Myrká, 2008.] Translated by Coletta Bürling. Köln: Lübbe, 2010.

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