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25 february 2013
Abgründe is the second consecutive Krimi by Arnaldur Indriðason not to feature his hero Erlendur, who remains where he was during the previous Frevelopfer – on vacation in his native Ostfjorden. Or rather, remains where he is, because it appears that the action of Abgründe is simultaneous with the action of Frevelopfer. Arnaldur can double up time in this way because Frevelopfer centered on the detective Elínborg, while Abgründe features Erlendur's other chief deputy, Sigurður Óli.
It occurs to me that in order to write a paragraph like the last one, you have to be a pretty serious Arnaldur fanatic, and I suppose I am. I picked up Abgründe in a bookshop in Flensburg in the north of Germany last summer, and it stayed on my shelf like a book that Sigurður Óli owns in the novel itself: "immer noch eingeschweißt [still shrinkwrapped]" (421) till about a month ago. I was already making plans to nab the even newer Arnaldur, Eiseskälte, next summer, when I realized I'd probably better read this one before buying the next.
The two non-Erlendur Arnaldurs have been slower to reach English translation and the American market; sending your popular character away to spin off others has rarely played well in American pop culture. But Arnaldur's popularity seems high in Germany and Scandinavia. And Abgründe is as full of action and Angst as any of the Erlendurs.
Sigurður Óli finds himself involved in three different cases, which play polyphonically across his days at the police station, sometimes converging. They illustrate different aspects of Iceland c2009, from pervasive, degrading street crime to huge international financial malfeasance. (I have no idea whether Reykjavík is as dangerous as Arnaldur portrays it. I suspect not: where would Krimis be without an endless supply of muggers and thugs. At one point a character says "I never knew a debt collector who didn't have a baseball bat": the milieu of the Scandinavian crime novel.)
The financial-malfeasance stuff is really pretty tedious. Pages and pages of exposition are devoted to the phony bonds and bubbly investments of the boom and crash. More interesting are the other cases, from lower mileus: a woman killed with, well, a baseball bat, and a years-old child molestation that threatens to bring on ghastly, long-delayed consequences. (Such was also the theme of the first Erlendur novel, Menschensöhne.)
Also intriguing is the slow burn of Sigurður Óli's personal life. He's separated from Bergþora, the woman he'd met in the course of Todesrosen and never quite made a successful marriage with. He can't meet another woman – well, isn't truly ready to – and spends his nights, when he's not insomniacally following leads, sitting in front of satellite TV watching baseball and American football. (He's a Cowboys fan – yay! but I hate to report it, a Red Sox fan too.) Honestly, he's halfway to becoming his mentor Erlendur: alone in an apartment, brooding over the injustices of Iceland and existence. More Sigurður Óli!
Arnaldur Indriðason. Abgründe. [Svörtuloft, 2009.] Translated by Coletta Bürling. Köln: Lübbe, 2011.
English title: Black Skies
French title: La muraille de lave
Italian title: Cielo nero