Voices and Balconies – the last of the Nordic Noir.

It’s the time of the year when, on opening the back door to let the sunshine in, it’s not uncommon to find a stray sheep or two grazing on our lawn. Spring has sprung! The daffodils and primroses are out in force and Easter is just around the corner, so I feel I ought to apologise for continuing to inflict my Nordic Noir obsession on you all.  It’s time to put away those chunky knits and I promise this will be my last icy crime post – well, for a while at least!

If you like your Noir extra chilled, Arnaldur Indriðason’s Voices is about as bleak and wintry as you can get. Set a few days before Christmas in a hotel in Reykjavik, the long-serving doorman, whose various duties include dressing up as Santa, is found dead in his room, in his seasonal costume, in a sexually compromising position. Detective Erlendur and his sidekicks, Sigurdur Óli and Elínborg investigate the murder, and uncover the surprising secret past of Gudlauger, the victim.

What I loved about this book is the way that Indriðason capitalises on the myriad varieties of family dysfunction that people experience at Christmas, beneath the saccharine veneer of enforced goodwill. As well as Gudlauger’s sad story, Erlendur’s own fragmented family situation is further explored. His choice to stay at the hotel throughout the investigation captures how the festive season can turn the everyday normality of returning to an empty home into an exercise of painful loneliness. This was my third Erlendur novel and they keep getting better and better. This would be the perfect antidote to the excesses of Christmas for those who are grim and cynical like me!

Indriðason’s Detective Erlendur is brooding and enigmatic, and very likely inspired by the genius of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. Their Martin Beck crime series has become a firm favourite of mine, with as much weight given to police procedure and the rising tensions of detectives working under pressure as to the crimes themselves. Like Erlendur, Martin Beck immerses himself in his work to escape his less than contented home life. At times, he has an almost clairvoyant ability to crack a case, as the cogs of his keen mind silently whirr beneath the surface of his consciousness.

As much as I enjoy the Beck novels, I did blanche a little at The Man on the Balcony due to the subject matter. Since becoming a parent I’ve found it difficult to read or watch crime drama involving children as victims, so a novel about the killing of young girls in various parks across Stockholm was never going to be a comfortable read. However, the focus on the struggle of the police to solve crimes for which they only have two unreliable witnesses – a hardened mugger and a three year old child, made for a gripping read. The Beck novels are written with a deceptive brevity. They’re certainly a quick read, but continue to haunt you long after the final page is turned.

 

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