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62 of 62 found the following review helpful:
"Here there is nothing but eulogies"Oct 16, 2008
By Gary Griffiths
Icelandic author Arnaldur Indridason's fourth Inspector Erlendur Sveinsson novel hits the reader with the same force as the earthquake that drained the lake of the title, an earthquake that uncovers not only a skeleton weighed down with Russian Cold War spy gear, but also unleashes an unexpected and passionate attack on communism and the naive ideals that have fueled its misguided historical popularity.
Make no mistake about it - Indridason is the real deal - a writer who can spin a head-scratching mystery with the best of them, while weaving into the fabric of the murder important historical threads that will illuminate while keeping the reader guessing, riveted to the pages all the while. From the discovery of the corpse uncovered by the factual draining of Iceland's Lake Kleifarvatn in 2001, Indridason takes the reader back to Communist East Germany in the 1950's, where idealist young Icelandic socialists are provided Soviet scholarships to the venerable University of Leipzig. But in Irdridason's mastery of parallel stories, utopia begins to unravel when Marxist ideals are confronted with Fascist realities, and the fairytale attraction of a workers paradise collapses as kids are spies for the state, turning on their erstwhile friends for favors of grades and power, creating a Hell in paradise where no one can be trusted and every action is suspect. With unrest in newly minted Soviet satellite of Hungary, and a fragile young Communist Empire in the balance, the situation gets ugly and visions of glorious redistribution of wealth and universal joy begin to fade like the paint job on an East German-made tractor. Despite encouragement from his colleagues to drop what is obviously a forgotten and insignificant decades old murder, the stubborn and irascible Erlendur steadfastly clings to the case, badgering septuagenarian potential witnesses and literally digging up clues buried for over forty years.
Told with the an unshakable and remorseful tone of Scandinavian fatalism, Indridason writes from a pallet that contains no bright shades, yet nonetheless succeeds in painting a tale so rich in tones of gray and black and Stygian black that it crosses the bounds of the story, bleeding into Inspector Sveinsson's miserable life, and to the lives of those who surround him. If this doesn't sound like a lot of fun, well, it's certainly not Comedy Central - and how happy can you be living in Iceland? But "The Draining Lake's" unmistakable power and seductiveness and gravity lies in the author's bleak and brutal prose, coupled with his skill in spinning a darn good yarn. This is a modern primer in political reality, colored and only barely overshadowed by a truly baffling and well-drawn murder mystery. And, hey, how can you not like a book that features a richly drawn cast with kick-butt Icelandic names like "Valgerdur" and "Elinborg" - and they're the women!
So trust me here - Indridason just keeps cranking out novel after novel of intelligent crime that defines an entirely deeper level of noir. Read it for the history or the mystery or simply for the stylist treatment of despair - but whatever the reason, this Arctic Circle guy deserves some space on your bookshelf.
22 of 22 found the following review helpful:
Fully Realized TalentOct 23, 2008
By Michael P. Maslanka
"Michael P. Maslanka"
Been a fan of this series since the start and the latest is exceptional.First off, the technique is great, controlled and subtle. Opening pages find us with a lonely woman, who has left a man home in her bed. A stranger. She surveys a lake draining away(it is her job to do so) and she finds a skelton. The juxaposition of these threads in less skilled hands would seem heavy handed. Here, his touch is deft. It works. And it works throught the rest of the novel, which explores loss and how we handle it. Some characters allow one door to close, and another to open (the protagonist, the lead detective is moving to that insight, however slowly and painfully), while others can not do it, including the man who was responsible for the body in the lake. There are other "loss" threads, which he plays off of the main ones. The writing is lyrical(kudos to the translator). A not to be missed series, and while having read the previous books gives a greater understanding, this one can be read as a stand alone.
15 of 15 found the following review helpful:
The Most Famous Icelander ...Dec 07, 2009
... Nobel Prize-winner Halldor Laxness abandoned his ecstatic Catholicism and became a fervent Socialist during and as a result of a visit to the United States. His mature novels all express his fierce commitment to economic and social justice, but Laxness was no "statist" of any ideological sort. He was exactly the Icelandic loner he portrayed in his greatest novel "Independent People". My guess is that if Laxness had been a Russian or an East German, instead of an Icelander, he'd have been silenced before his second novel.
But what does Halldor Laxness have to do with "The Draining Lake", a crime novel, the fourth installment in the popular series starring the glum Inspector Erlandur? Well, quite a lot actually... Every Icelandic author writes in the shadow of Laxness, even Arnaldur Indridason, whose books current outsell the master's by at least a hundred to one. In fact, Laxness makes an explicit appearance, a 'walk-on' in the meditation-memories of Tomás, the idealistic young Icelandic socialist whose studies in communist East Germany in the 1950s are somehow enmeshed in the 'disappearance mystery' Erlandur is compelled to investigate. Tomás remembers his own emotion at finding himself standing under the statue of Bach in Leipzig, exactly where Laxness had stood before.
The Draining Lake is an entertainment first and foremost, the sort of crime novel that holds the reader entranced with clues and false clues up to the final chapter. But it's also a moral tale about idealism and the survival of such ideals even after the most heinous possible betrayal. Inspector Erlandur, with his weary guilt-ridden honesty, is not the central figure of this installment; Tomás is, and the reader quickly begins to speculate what sort of "flash of recognition" might pass between these two sad men when finally they meet. And it's obvious that they will come together, but I have no intention of disclosing how or when.
This is also a novel about that portion of the world that isn't Iceland, where something as vile as "interactive surveillance" could corrupt the noblest ideals. Half of the story takes place in Leipzig, where Tomás falls in love with Ilona, another idealistic student from Hungary. Tomás is one of several Icelanders in Leipzig on grants from the Communist state. Eventually, back in Iceland, in their seventies by now, two of those students will find themselves confronted with the police, interrogated by Erlandur and his colleagues, and for them "interrogation" brings back their worst memories. They are both impressive "independent" people, utterly enraged by the "charade" of socialism they saw and rejected in the Stalinist hell of the '50s, and yet as idealistic as ever, rejecting any hint of cynicism.
Here's a passage from Erlandur's interrogation of Hannes, an Icelander who was booted out of the university in Leipzig and sent home in shame to Iceland; Erlandur asks him about "socialism as a genuine alternative to capitalism.
"I don't think it's dead," Hannes said, as if reaching some kind of conclusion. "I think it's very much alive, but in a different way from what we imagined. It's socialism that makes it bearable for us to live under capitalism."
"You're still a socialist?" Erlandur said.
"I always have been," Hannes said. "Socialism bears no relation to the blatant inhumanity that Stalin turned it into or the ridiculous dictatorships taht developed across Eastern Europe."
Here's another passage; the speaker is a woman, Rut, who left Leipzig voluntarily:
".... the socialism we believed in then and believe in now remains the same, and it played a part in establishing the labour movement, ensuring a decent wage and free hospitals to care for you and your family, educated you to become a police officer, set up the national insurance system, set up the welfare system. But that's nothing compared with the implicit socialist values we all live by, you and me and her, so that society can function. It's socialism that makes us into human beings."
Laxness might have said it with more literary flair, but his message would have been similar.
Indridason is not a writer of the genius of Halldor Laxness. I doubt that he aspires to be. But this is a powerful indictment, this detective fiction, of the abuses of humanity in the former communist dictatorships. "Interactive surveillance" indeed! It's painful to remember how close America came to the same villainy at the same time, in the McCarthy era, and again with Bush/Cheney's Patriot Act. Tyranny cloaked in the rhetoric of idealism is the ugliest tyranny of all.
24 of 26 found the following review helpful:
Great stuffMar 25, 2008
By Mark Pastin
This is one of the best mysteries of any kind I have read in many years.
As good or better than Henning Mankell at his best. Fine plottting, great
atmosphere, and unique insights into human nature at its best and worst.
Don't miss this very fine book.
10 of 10 found the following review helpful:
Hot Fiction from IcelandFeb 14, 2010
By Mary Esterhammer-Fic
THE DRAINING LAKE is yet another title in Arnaldur Indridason's Reykjavik series. They're all good, old-fashioned detective novels, although set in contemporary Iceland. Indridason's writing is powerful: it's spare, direct, and solid.
The main character in these books is a detective named Erlendur, who schleps through a far from glamorous life, solving cases with his team. Erlendur is estranged from his wife and he has a tenuous, largely unhappy, relationship with his two adult (burn-out)children. He reads obsessively about travellers who have vanished in Iceland's wilderness; his younger brother disappeared in a blizzard when they were kids, and that tragedy overshadows everything in Erlendur's life. As prickly and churlish as Elendur can be, he's a decent police officer who is conscientious in his work.
Of course, Erlendur's fellow detectives have to include a handsome, younger cop and a woman--in this case, Sigurder Oli and Elinborg, respectively. Indridason is really good at allowing all of these characters to become more complex and well-developed throughout the series, revealing them little by little.
But the most interesting component of all is Iceland itself. Indridason brings the country and its people to life, in all its bleakness. It's a harsh environment, and the prose style fits the setting exactly. Detective Erlendur's cool reserve seems to be a function of his surroundings, as he deliberately moves toward resolving cases.
In THE DRAINING LAKE, Erlendur and his team catch a case involving Cold War-era spies. Iceland, which still hosts an American military base, was a fairly significant area during the Cold War--right on the border between the Soviets and the West. We are introduced to a man who had experiences in East Germany during his idealistic socialist-influenced youth, and Indridason paints a frightening picture of student life under Communism, when friends informed on friends and the Stasi "disappeared" people who had become inconvenient to the cause.
Among the countries I'd like to visit, Iceland is in my top five. Even though this series reveals some of the darker corners of that society, Indridason still makes it sound like a fascinating destination.
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