In the wake of an earthquake, the water level of an Icelandic lake drops suddenly, revealing the skeleton of a man half-buried in its sandy bed. It is clear immediately that it has been there for many years. There is a large hole in the skull. Yet more mysteriously, a heavy communication device is attached to it, possibly some sort of radio transmitter, bearing inscriptions in Russian.
The police are called in and Erlendur, Elinborg and Sigurdur Oli begin their investigation, which gradually leads them back to the time of the Cold War when bright, left-wing students would be sent from Iceland to study in the 'heavenly state' of Communist East Germany.
The Draining Lake is another remarkable Indridason mystery about passions and shattered dreams, the fate of the missing and the grief of those left behind.
One of the reading challenges I set for myself this year was to read at least one Scandinavian crime novel in each month. Last month was my first taste of Jo Nesbo, albeit with a novel set in Australia. This month was Arnaldur Indridason and his book, The Draining Lake. I reckon I have read one of the author’s previous efforts, Jar City several long years ago. A lot of books have been read in the mean-time and as a consequence any memories or feelings for the novel have long since left me.
Effectively coming to this author fresh and with a novel based at least some of the time in an authentic Scandinavian setting, I was immediately captured by the story. Indridason weaves between a present day investigation into a recently discovered skeleton, and a more turbulent period in Eastern Europe’s recent history with some students studying in Leipzig. The Icelandic students with their Socialist ideals get to enjoy the realities of life in a Communist country; one which probably infringed on its citizens liberties more than Mother Russia did. I’ve read of life in East Germany under Communism last year with Anna Funder’s excellent Stasiland. Indridason captures the menace of the 60’s in a country where individuals lived under a regime where suspicion and paranoia was the default position of the state. Icelandic idealism soon wearies in a society where trust is in short supply.
Traversing the narrative back and forth between 60’s Leipzig and present day Iceland, Indridason knits a cohesive tale. The book was enjoyable and interesting, and populated with characters that were likeable and engaging. The three police officers in the team have lives outside the job and we are introduced to their families and ongoing sagas. Rather than acting as a distraction or sideshow to the main tale, the relationship between the three and their obvious regard and support for each other added to my enjoyment.
This is the 4th in the author’s series of Reykjavik murder mysteries, with another 4 published after it. I’ll definitely be back for more. I’m hoping the long forgotten Jar City still resides somewhere in my attic, as I wouldn’t mind revisiting it again or to be honest any of the others.
In my somewhat slim Scandinavian crime league table, Indridason sits at the top ahead of Nesbo after one book each. Stieg Larsson is in third position with his namesake Asa and the double act of Sjowall/Wahloo and Henning Mankell still to join the fray.
5 from 5 – and a likely book of the month.
Bought my copy of the book from an Oxfam shop many moons ago.